Report Synopsis

Improving connectivity in the seed potato supply chain

The potato has huge potential as a world food. Scottish seed potato producers have been leading the world in their approach to managing risk and producing high quality seed. However, the task of growing high-grade potato seed has become harder in recent years with heightened customer expectations and changing weather patterns.

My intention before my Nuffield travels was to better understand supply chain frameworks that help connect the industry by establishing how digital tools and business structures support connectivity in a supply chain. I thought this would focus on the sharing of technical and market information. I chose to travel to emerging markets such as Kenya, India and South America, where the population is high, and potatoes offer an opportunity to increase production in these emerging markets, where the number of growers is high and many of the supply chain frameworks are in their infancy. I compared these to well-established markets in the USA, the Netherlands and the UK, where, in contrast, numbers of growers are falling and supply chains are multi-level and complex.

Throughout my travels, I observed that connectivity was not just about the framework of the supply chain but, most importantly, about the mindset of the people within it. This report looks at examples of connectivity around the world in the potato industry from a farmer in Kenya, teaching other farmers to whom he supplied seed potatoes and training them in planting and managing potato crops, to growers’ groups in Chile sharing expertise and overcoming challenges in accessing markets, and to large businesses in India which are thriving by accessing global funding.

I found that the global potato industry is full of opportunities and is constantly expanding in its ability to connect. On reflection, the UK has a complex supply chain that has become technically detailed in order to produce a consistent product. These chains are often linear and not circular, and there is a need to connect the seed producer at either end of the chain, to researchers and the consumer at the other, so that the whole industry can respond to challenges and change faster. Tools and technologies, for instance, are being used to enhance communication throughout the supply chain and examples of growers leading this change can be seen around the world.

The global potato industry has technology readily available to it which can address consumer demands; however, this will mean redesigning the current structure that Scotland has become an expert in. Science and technology are advancing and bringing new opportunities to current potato breeding programmes, which will change the way the industry connects from seed producer to consumer. Now is a good time for the Scottish potato industry to establish how potatoes will be grown in the future and be part of the growth in potatoes as a global food. This will require strong connectivity throughout the industry with a focus on customers, the environment, policy, technology and the economics of production.

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