The Sunday Mail
A team of local researchers, in partnership with Korean scientists, have developed a hybrid potato seed, capable of withstanding diseases affecting the current varieties being grown in the country.
The seed is projected to increase yields from the present averages of 28 to 40 tonnes per hectare.
The potato seed was developed by the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) in collaboration with the Korean Programme on International Agriculture.
It comes at a time many farmers are turning to potato production and it is expected to reduce seed imports from neighbouring countries.
Potato production is on the increase in the last decade with agricultural statistics on Zimbabwe from online source Potatopro, showing that harvests have surged from 50 000 tonnes in 2008 to 65 000 tonnes in 2017.
In an interview, SIRDC acting director for Biotechnology Research Institute Dr Tafara Matekaire said the new potato seed had “the capacity to increase the national yield, which is currently at 28 tonnes, to about 40 tonnes per hectare which will also lead to an increased profitability for the farmers.
“It is disease free and is going to eradicate the current problem of importing seeds from South Africa,” said Mr Matekaire
“We will be able to save foreign currency and uplift our national productivity levels and allow rapid multiplication of the seed potato and bulking using already existing irrigation schemes, therefore promoting participatory seed potato production by smallholder farmers leading to improvement of livelihoods and households security.”
Mr Matekaire added that, traditionally, potato growing is mostly done in the Eastern regions of the country, but the new seed variety could thrive in other regions.
He said final test runs were being conducted on the new seed with expectation it would be released on the market next year. The development of the virus-free potato seed began in 2017 and was fully implemented last year.
Once released on the market, it is expected to see farmers save on chemical costs as the current varieties are prone to disease attacks.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president Mr Shadreck Makombe said the country had potential to increase potato yields and exports.
“Potato farmers are besieged with high production costs. Most seed varieties they purchase are easily contaminated, yet expensive,” he said.
“The current potato seed varieties are not giving us the maximum yield and continue to decrease in size making them cheaper and unattractive on the export market, hence the need for introduction of hybrid varieties for increased production.”
Government plans to include potato production on command agriculture upon realisation potatoes can sustain the nation in the event of reduced harvest of the staple grain.