The humble spuds gets its 15 minutes of fame

I’m just back from a few weeks’ break in Kenya, where the big news was that over the holidays KFC ran out out chips (French fries). It was not a question of inadequate production, though. There are plenty of potatoes in Kenya.

The problem, apparently, was that potential local suppliers had not gone through KFC’s quality assurance process that makes sure “our food is safe for consumption by our customers”, the company’s East Africa chief executive Jacques Theunissen told the Standard newspaper.

So KFC ended up importing potatoes from Egypt, and ran into supply chain snarl-ups.

Makes you think. What’s the point of fancy breeding projects to boost local production, including by the likes of the International Potato Centre, based on decades of research, and using genetic resources painstakingly collected all over the Andes over many years, if in the end local growers get screwed over standards they don’t even know about?

Anyway, let me say a few words about what exactly it is I linked to above about potato collecting, because it really is worth having a look at.

Professor Jack Hawkes was a world-renowned potato and genetic resources expert who spent much of his professional life at the University of Birmingham. He made his first trip to South America in 1939 to collect wild and cultivated species of potato. And on this expedition and others that followed he made several 16 mm films, which have recently been converted to digital format, and become available to view more widely for the first time.

Dr Mike Jackson, no slouch at collecting potatoes himself, put the website together with help from Dr Abigail Amey, who wrote the narrative to accompany the films.

Happy new year.

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