The word Shangi was derived from the word Shangilia translated to celebrations. Shangi variety is a unique potato variety and has since then puzzled all potato breeders and experts. You would easily compare this potato variety to alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine. Nothing else would wire farmers to stick with it without a crazy obsession. Shangi has addicted farmers, and they have stood with it.
No one knows where this potato came from or who brought it to the farmers. It’s been around for about two decades, and it’s getting better and better. Angels in disguise have brought tactics to wipe out the Shangi breed, but it’s been met with futility. In a country with more than 75 potato varieties, Shangi controls more than 80% of the market share.
Despite its massive popularity, Shangi is neither the highest yielding variety nor the best in mechanization, processing, or storing. Not even CIP has been successful in identifying why Shangi is deeply rooted in the Kenyan system.
What makes Shangi unique?
- Quick Maturity
When a new year and season starts, potato farmers start preparations to maximize their yields. Since potatoes in Kenya are high-value crops, most farmers try to maximize their yields. Subsequently, potato productivity declines for several reasons, such as lack of certified seeds, pests and diseases, and poor management practices. Farmers, therefore, want to plant as many as three seasons per year.
Shangi cultivar is one of those potatoes that grow in 90 days. According to the NPCK potato catalog of 2019, you can harvest Shangi within 75 days after planting. Regular farmers prefer to harvest their tubers before they achieve full maturity to capture higher farm gate prices. It makes the relationship between farmers and Shangi cultivar concrete.
Europeans way of doing things is miles apart from our African way. They have the best potato cultivar for chipping, table usage, mashing, making crisps, or potato flakes. For instance, Maris piper and Markies are very popular for their fantastic chipping quality.
In Africa, things are pretty different. We live by the saying, ‘know something little about everything.’ With this in Mind, Shangi is not the best cultivar for any usage. Nonetheless, it performs moderately in all areas. Shangi for chips, Shangi for Crips, Shangi for home-cooking is the sweet potato anthem that farmers love.
- Very Little dormancy
As noted previously, there are many practices that farmers aren’t getting right in matters of potatoes. It triggers the farmers to increase their farm sizes and deploy the game of numbers. The game of numbers in potatoes entails planting as many seasons as possible within a year.
Shangi is famous for its minimal dormancy because farmers can replant it within three weeks. There is no other potato variety with such flexibility.
- Monopolistic forces
Anyone in the potato industry knows that Shangi holds a monopoly both in the market and farms. Buyers in the market prefer Shangi for no apparent reason. While farmers are willing to change in the farms the market (stubborn-ever-drunk-safari-boot-wearing reckless middlemen) is never willing to adapt to new varieties. It leaves the farmer with no other option but to continue plying the Shangi route.
On the other hand, the county government, government agencies, and NGOs are pushing new varieties to the farmers. However, a severe problem exists. Seed availability of these other cultivars is minimal (I mean almost inexistent). When writing, the NPCK potato timetable had only three potato varieties (least preferred – Panamera, Wanjiku, and Manitou) with no multipurpose usage for two months and thus bad for business. Farmers stick with Shangi, whose certified/clean/with seeds are readily available.
- Fear of unknown
Sometime back, research was conducted on why farmers still prefer the disease and pests susceptible potato variety – Shangi. One finding was that variety preference happens in the country’s open-air markets (which control most potatoes).
A market vendor said that he dislikes the white potato varieties because they turn green after minimal exposure to the sun. Considering that the nature of most markets in Kenya is open, white varieties face a significant disadvantage.
- Market Availability
For farmers, the market is the single most crucial aspect when planting or venturing in farming. Since the market has evolved and ushered in a new marketing era, advising a farmer to plant a different potato variety is like putting a hangman’s noose around their necks. Once you interact with brokers, you will realize that they cannot buy any other potato variety unless there is no Shangi on site. If they are willing to buy it, they only want to do so at a meager price. For farmers, they don’t want to face the hurdle of looking for legitimate buyers. This makes them plant Shangi, although they do so half-heartedly.
Written by; Eileen Jerotich