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    Consumption of potato chips (French fries) in East Africa is booming. Urbanisation, the proliferation of fast-food restaurants, growing tourism, and a significant change in eating habits among both high- and low-income groups in urban areas is raising demand on average by 10-17 per cent a year in six countries in eastern and central Africa. But in-country commercial processing of potatoes into chips is lacking and the market is currently dominated by European and South African companies.

    Dr Berga Lemaga of the International Potato Center (CIP) believes that there is great potential for an East African chip-making industry. A marketing survey conducted during 2004-2006 found that over 50 per cent of low-income urban households in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda make their own chips. Corresponding figures for wealthier households in these countries average almost 80 per cent, with the highest (100%) in Rwanda and the lowest (54%) in Tanzania.Yet processing of potato into pre-cut chips for the urban market in East Africa is virtually non-existent.

    Only Kenya has any significant output, with five chip-makers, and only one of these is making frozen french fries. As a result, 80 per cent of restaurants and hotels make their own, with imported chips from Belgium, The Netherlands and South Africa filling the gap. But Lemaga is optimistic, predicting: "Farmers have good soils and a good climate to grow more of these processing varieties. If the right things are put in place I am positive that the region will be self-sufficient, and if that happens these countries can save up to nearly $1 billion per year in importing frozen chips."