Meet Ali Bukhamseen, The Kuwaiti Farmer Obsessed with the Perfect Potato
On a chilly winter morning, sun shining bright, I travelled north to Abdali with Ali Bukhamseen to explore his farm, Kenaneya. I’ve always been a country kid at heart and was delighted for the opportunity to leave the city behind and get some fresh air. The day was made all the more exciting by the fact that Bukhamseen is quickly moving from amateur gardener to one of the region’s first internationally certified organic farmers.
He’s currently working hard to convert his farm into an organic farm, a task which he describes as a headache, yet this is a lengthy process and a process for which Kuwait currently has no regulations. When I asked him to tell me a little more about the route he is taking, measuring himself against America and Europe who themselves have different guidelines, he replied telling me that “a lot of people don’t understand organic is not really a scientific term, it is a commercial term that is guided with industrial specifications.” He went on to further explain that when he uses the term organic, what he’s referring to is being audited by a certifying body so that his produce meets the regulations for exporting as organic.
Bukhamseen has a sharp business mind and admits he doesn’t know if he has the capacity for production where it makes sense economically to certify. He is moving forward with an Egyptian certifying body that could certify his products to be sold in Germany, a country recognized for having one of the strictest governing bodies for certifying produce.
Valuable lessons could be learned from our relations with such countries. Bukhamseen observes that right now when people import to Kuwait and say they’re organic, it could mean anything; “There is no local guidance, no third party certifier, and there are no Kuwaiti specifications for organic.” I asked if this should be changed to which Bukhamseen explained that the region is currently developing. With more people becoming conscious of what they eat, it won’t be long before this filters into the produce being grown. He believes that the population in Kuwait has a benchmark for sophistication and is gaining an education of what organic food is; it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, it just has to be affordable. He explains that the only cost the consumer would have to pay is a little bit of premium for inspection. A lot of people here in Kuwait are worried about the word fertilizer and not pesticide, however, pesticides are the poison, they’re made to kill. Bukhamseen wants to see a specific regulation introduced that identifies which farms use bio-measures instead of the poisonous pesticides.
The lack of this historically could be down to the attitude of farmers, previously the majority approached agriculture from a loose perspective, Bukhamseen observes that they would envision the plant and stop there. They wouldn’t see how or where the plant could be used; what the end plate was. He’s developed the farm’s identity to acknowledge that he takes from seed to plate into consideration. This influenced one of the biggest projects that he’s working on; crispy french fries.
This was inspired by Elevation Burger. They contacted him to enquire about sourcing and this led him on a journey to discover which variety of potato is best suited to avoid a soggy fry. He credits a lot of his research into different varieties with being able to work with local suppliers for seedlings. The availability in the market of varieties can be restricting, only table potatoes are available in different varieties, yet he manages to have 75% of his seedlings supplied locally.
Farmers refer to the number of produce and varieties they grow as a portfolio, with many boasting a huge range. However, Bukhamseen believes in quality not quantity and is reducing his portfolio down to just five items. This is partially in relation to his push for going organic, but also ties into his current agricultural focus; potatoes.
He knows of three or four farms growing potatoes commercially, two of which are big producers but even their production is not enough to sustain a years supply to the market, they could only sustain maybe a three or four month supply at a time. This gives Bukhamseen a lot of hope for the future of turning his farm into a commercial operation.
The organic and commercial feasibility is in working progress with Bukhamseen spending every spare minute he has on research, development, and implementation. Perhaps here I should mention that between kneeling down in his beige trousers and pulling up carrots with his own hands, he casually mentioned that farm operations are conducted around his nine hour a day white-collar job and Fridays with his family.