Women selling Irish potatoes in a Ugandan food market
Plans by Kenya to import Irish potatoes from the Netherlands have got agricultural experts worried, with some warning that a deadly Irish potato disease called the late blight could spread throughout the region.

Researchers, who were at Serena Lake Victoria hotel on Monday for the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) board of directors’ meeting, which takes place every two years, expressed concern that if Kenya didn’t put in place mitigation measures, the region was likely to grapple with yet another serious crop disease.

“The problem we have with the importation is that in the ASARECA region, we have got a disease which causes blight in potatoes. The disease is caused by fungus and that fungus reproduces sexually. But we have been lucky that its partner is not available,” said Daphrose Gahakwa, the deputy director general, research, Rwanda Agricultural Board, and Chairperson ASARECA programme committee.

In 2012, Kenya signed an agreement with Netherlands for the importation of Irish potatoes as East Africa’s biggest economy looked to add value to its locally produced potatoes. This move, which Kenya fast-tracked, has the rest of the countries in the region on tenterhooks.

“We have been safe because we don’t do any [Irish] potato seed trading with the European countries. But now that Kenya has initiated it, we have to be very careful,” Gahakwa said.

“We have to make sure that the potatoes come in but they don’t come in with that unwanted visitor. Otherwise, if it comes in, it will be the end of the potato industry,” she added.

According to Gahakwa, the Netherlands is also negotiating with Uganda and Rwanda to also take up their varieties.