The Sunday Mail
Word from the market with AMA
Zimbabwe has a well-established history of potato production. Apart from giving high returns per invested dollar to the farmer, the crop contributes significantly to the nation’s food security. As such, the Government declared potato as one of the strategic crops to enhance food security at household and national levels.
In 2010, there was an imposition of a ban on table potato imports, to protect the local potato farmers from unfair competition from neighbouring countries that were flooding the local market.
Since then, national potato production trends have been increasing exponentially from 52 000 tonnes in 2010 up to 475 000 tonnes produced in 2017 (Agritex, Crop Assessment Reports, 2010-2017). This increase reflects continual growth in local consumption of potatoes.
So lucrative has potato production become that farmers are now focusing on export markets to generate foreign currency needed for the procurement of major inputs for them to remain viable.
This high level of production requires a strong seed supply system if the national target of planting 20 000 ha of potatoes annually or even more is to be achieved.
Other interventions which impacted on the growth of the potato sub-sector are the formation of the Zimbabwe Seed Potato Companies Association (ZSPCA) to give the potato industry a structure that makes planning and coordination easier. In addition, the Agricultural Recovery Plan is also targeting the production of alternative ‘climate smart’ foods such as cassava, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Growth in local potato production was supported by the availability of high-quality certified seed. The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement (MLAFWRR) allowed supervised importation of certified potato seed by seed houses to complement local seed production. The first substantial seed imports took place in 2012.
This attracted foreign breeders who started to engage local seed houses to register their varieties with Seed Services Institute. Consequently, in the last 11 years, various seed houses registered a total of 17 high-yielding, table, chipping and crisping potato varieties after going through the necessary adaptability trials.
As a result, national average yields have grown from about 15 tonnes per ha in 2010 to about 24.7 tonnes/Ha by 2017. Most varieties take between 90 – 120 days to mature. Average yields range from 17-20t/ha with some varieties getting up to 40t/ha.
Potato grows well in deep, well-drained, and friable soils are required for potato production. The availability of good rainfall and irrigation is important in determining yield and quality. With a good water supply, farmers can grow potatoes three times a year.
However, in Zimbabwe, plantings commence in November. The first winter crop is planted between February to April and is mostly an irrigated crop. The second winter crop is planted between July to August.
Soil analysis is the basis on which fertiliser rates are made. For fertiliser, basal fertiliser Compound S/C 1300-1500KG/Ha is applied in furrows at planting. The top dressing is applied 3 weeks after emergence. Ammonium nitrate applied at a rate of 300kg/ha. Depending on soil type, split applications can be done. It is also important to ensure that the tubers are well covered to avoid greening and potato tuber moth. Ridging is an important exercise in potato production.
Pest and Diseases
Common pests include nematodes, grubs, cutworm, tuber, and moth. The pests cause early and late blights and wilts.
Varieties in Zimbabwe
There are several varieties available for production in Zimbabwe. Common varieties include Diamond, Montclare, Amethyst, BP1. Choice of variety is influenced by yield potential, maturity period, pest and disease tolerance, purpose (table or processing) as well as tuber characteristics.
Potatoes can be grown from True potato seed (TPS), plantlets or Tubers. The use of high-quality seed is important. Certified seed will produce higher yields than standard seed.
When harvested potatoes are graded into different sizes (small, medium, and large). In Zimbabwe, potatoes are mostly packed in potato sacks weighing 15kg. Price can range from $10 -$15 for a pocket of potatoes. There is a great demand for potatoes both on the informal and formal markets. Sometimes potatoes are exported into Mozambique.
More interventions are needed to consolidate the gains already made in the potato subsector. Some of the measure already underway include the Potato Value Chain Financing Facility which the MLAFWRR, and value chain players are already working on.
The inclusion of potatoes in the national crop assessment reports as well as monitoring the performance of key-value chain players including processors will further enhance production.
MLAFWRR, Agricultural Marketing Authority and key value chain players shall continue to pursue deliberate transformative measures to make sure that the full potential of the potato value chain is realised especially given that the huge export market remains untapped.
Successful Crop Management Tips
◆ Good cultural management practices
◆ Monitoring soil moisture
◆ Irrigating on time
◆ Fertiliser in right amounts at right times for a reasonable yield
◆ Proper storage conditions
◆ A glimpse of costs
Producing a hectare of potatoes costs between USD5000 and USD8000 depending on agronomic practices being implemented. Average yields per hectare range from 20 tonnes-40 tonnes meaning that a farmer can realise gross revenue of USD 16600-USD33200 at a price of US83cents per kg.
◆ Word from the market is a column produced by the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) to promote market driven production of agricultural crops. Department of Research and Specialist Services (DRSS) and Seed Services ((MLAFWRR) contributed to this article. Feedback [email protected] or [email protected].