Does this apply to Zimbabwe? The answer is a big yes.
Potato is a high-input crop that produces very high returns over a short growing period.
The potato has one of the highest yields per unit area and unit time.
The crop is well known for its high nutritional value, high yields and quick returns (three to four months).
Approximately US$7 000 in inputs is needed to produce a hectare of potatoes, which includes the seed and this can produce returns of about US$16 000 a hectare (i.e. when 30 tonnes per hectare are harvested and sold at US$8 for a 15kg pocket).
The crop can yield as high as 60t/ha under well-managed environments.
Potatoes have proven to be an important crop component in the creation of viable cropping programmes for most farms. The high returns offered by the crop and the short production period facilitate rapid establishment of cropping programmes and enhances farm development. A number of farms across almost all the agro-ecological zones have realised the need to incorporate potato in their cropping programmes.
The crop’s high productivity and returns per unit area and time are valuable attributes that make potato the best avenue through which funds for farmer recapitalisation should be injected, at the same time addressing food security issues.
The goal of the national potato programme is to enhance food security, improve standards of living and national health status by making available to the nation adequate volumes of nutritious and affordable potatoes produced under sustainable production conditions by the local farmer.
Zimbabwe has a well-developed potato industry which has the capacity to adequately supply potatoes at the right price. The country has a well-isolated seed production area which has the potential of producing basic seed enough to plant 30 000ha annually.
The aim of the national programme is to make potatoes available to the customer at an affordable price, at the same time allowing the farmers to remain in the farming business.
Doing so will reduce costs and increase farmer profits and in the long run, result in improved standards of living.
The drive of the project is to ensure food security through promotion of consumption of potatoes by making them available at an affordable price.
Increased table potato supply, due to enlarged production area and higher yields per hectare, will act to bring down the price from current levels, while its affordability will act to maintain or push the price up.
These free market forces are largely expected to maintain the price affordable to the consumer and at sustainable levels to the farmer.
Demand for potatoes in Zimbabwe is high and it is expected that the consumption will increase due to the projected rise in availability.
It is anticipated that the demand for potatoes will increase as consumers will seek to complement the wheat and maize products.
These anticipated improvements in the economy will also see an overall shift in consumer behaviour, with potatoes becoming the preferred source of staple food.
Potato consumption generally increases with an improvement in the standard of living.
The national programme is targeting to at least double potato consumption over the next 12 months.
Regionally, there has been a high demand of potatoes and Zimbabwe will probably tap into some of the export markets that are currently being supplied by South Africa or not being supplied at all.
The main determinants of successful production are quality of seed, management and availability of resources.
The Seed Potato Co-op and other stakeholders have come up with farmer field schools and training workshops that will be held to ensure overall understanding of potato production.
Quality of seed used is a major determinant of potato crop yields for all varieties.
The level of disease load in seed can make the difference between success and failure.
Farmers should target to get at least 30t/ha.
A number of local farmers are achieving yields of above 40t/ha with the more experienced growers attaining 60t/ha. The USA’s Washington State averages 65t/ha, while the Netherlands has an average yield of 45t/ha.
The Crop Breeding Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture has seven registered potato varieties that are available on the market.
All the varieties are sold at the Seed Potato Co-op.
There are two medium to early maturing varieties called BP1and Diamond, they take 14-15 weeks to mature.
The rest, Amethyst, Pimpernel, Montclare, Garnet and Jasper are late maturing varieties taking 17-19 weeks to mature. All of the above varieties have the potential of attaining yields of 30-40 tonnes per hectare with Amethyst going up to as far as 60/ha.
Ky20, a privately breed variety of medium maturity, is also available.
It is recommended that farmers work closely with their respective input suppliers to achieve maximum benefits from use of the inputs.
The crop performs fairly well in most soil types provided there is good fertilisation, drainage, good water retention and aeration.
The current seed potato system is based on the maintenance and propagation of disease-free parental material in the Nyanga quarantine area.
Production of “AA” seed is carried out in the Nyanga quarantine area.
“AA” seed is then distributed to the rest of Zimbabwe for further multiplication to produce “A” seed.
Since the 1960s, only the national breeding programme has been authorised to import potatoes under rigid quarantine procedures, and then only for breeding and evaluation purposes.
This arrangement has managed to keep our potato industry intact and manageable with regards to diseases.
Potato imports could result in the introduction and spread of disease of both quarantine and economic importance to the country.
Recent developments to curb this phenomenon in the country are encouraging and supportive of forward planning and investments in the potato, tobacco and other related industries.
Certified seed potato
The UN FAO reports that the world production of potatoes in 2008 was 314 million tonnes, making it the world’s fourth largest food group following by rice, wheat and maize. Potatoes were present and well developed in Zimbabwe by the early 20th century.
The Seed Potato Co-op is a non-profit Zimbabwean-registered seed potato certifying agency whose main thrust is to advance the interests of seed potato growers and the potato industry.
The organisation has over 50 years of experience in the production of quality seed potato and has been the flagship of the Zimbabwe potato industry.
Seed potato is usually sold dormant.
This allows the seed producer to pack and sell the seed at optimum weight and allows the buyer to carefully handle the seed in preparation for planting.
The buyer can thus adjust sprouting and/or rate of sprout growth to suit own production plans.