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Potatoes are emerging as a staple crop in areas of East Africa, and are offering farmers in the region a promising — and increasingly profitable — alternative to grain crops.

Enormous Potato Production Potential in Africa

Since 1990, the acreage used for potato production worldwide has increased by 40%. The delivered volume has also doubled. Over the same period, the trade value of potatoes has shot up by 400%.

Dr Maximo Torero is the World Bank’s Executive Director. He says that, in a large part, this imbalance of increasing production versus the increasing value of potatoes can be found in the frozen product sector. “The most significant increase in value has been noted in developed countries. These include America, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada,” Torero said at the recent international potato congress, held in Peru, South America.

He emphasised that favourable trade agreements in the Americas and the European Union grants other potato producing countries access to international trade. “Only six per cent of the potatoes produced in the world are traded internationally. This is versus 17% of the worldwide grain production,” Torero said.

Torero used these facts to paint a picture of the realities and issues global potato producers have to face in order to reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

After the conference, Dr André Jooste, CEO of Potatoes South Africa, highlighted four realities and problems. They are:

  • By 2050, the demand for food will have increased by 40%
  • Sustainability and productivity will become increasingly important
  • Climate change will make decision-making, sustainability, and profitability difficult
  • Governmental policy can and must be advantageous for the agricultural sector.

Many international research projects were discussed at the congress. These are being done to tackle the issues mentioned above, as well as other problems. The goal is to reach the SDGs, which aim to, among other things, eradicate poverty, hunger, and the lack of clean water and proper sanitation.

Full potential
According to Jooste, four factors – which were discussed at the conference – are needed to unlock the potato sector’s full potential and, so, achieve the SDGs:

  • More nutritious potato cultivars with higher production potentials are going to become increasingly important. They must also be able to withstand climate change.
  • Better potato sprout quality and production are needed. This, and improved distribution that can guarantee the permanent use of disease-resistant sprouting potatoes, will be a deciding factor.
  • Better management practices to ensure increased productivity and sustainability must be developed. Systems that support decisions can achieve these. Diagnostic equipment for disease and pest control, as well as better water and soil management practices,  are also needed.
  • Integrated food safety and the development of the value chain must ensure access to dynamic markets. Here, partnerships between the private and public sectors can be decisive in ensuring profitability.

Jooste added that Africa has the potential to make an enormous contribution toward the successful achievement of the SDGs. Between 1994 and 2006, Africa supplied a mere 5,6% of the world’s potatoes. There is, therefore, much potential to increase production on that continent.

“The expansion of potential must coincide with an increased demand,” says Jooste. “That is why energy and investments must be focused on better access to the market. The development of dynamic low-cost value chain and consumer education are also priorities.”

“A focused approach must be followed to promote the nutritional benefits of potatoes above other crops. For example, potatoes can deliver three to four times more kilojoules per hectare than grain crops. There is, therefore, room to improve the value potatoes offer. However, this will require the involvement of everyone across the entire value chain,” Jooste said.

Source: Fresh Plaza

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