Dessie Zuria is one of the most critically food-insecure districts in Ethiopia. About 90 per cent of the population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture in the area, where drought is a perennial problem. The high altitude restricts the crops that can be grown, and farmers have been reduced to growing a single staple — barley. The majority of the area’s craggy, mountainous terrain is not suitable for agriculture, and soil degradation has reduced the productivity of much of the remaining land.
However, the humble potato — previously unknown in this region of Ethiopia — is helping to transform the lives of thousands of the poorest farmers. “I was dependent on barley, which is highly vulnerable to the shortage of rain, and my income was very, very minimal,” says Seid Muhie, a farmer from Dessie Zuria’s Gelsha kebele parish. “I was ready to sell my land, settle in a nearby town and become a day labourer. But after growing potatoes, I changed my plans.”
Muhie was only able to grow 75 kilograms of barley a year on his four-acre plot of land, earning just 450 birr, the equivalent of US$24. He found it difficult to support his family. Four years ago, he started planting potatoes with the help of Concern Worldwide, an international charity fighting world poverty. “The harvest was very good. I produced 40 50-kilogram sacks of potatoes from the same plot of land, and I sold [each sack] for 170 birr. I was surprised by the income that I could get from the potatoes,” says Seid.
In 2007, NGO Concern Worldwide started a potato pilot project with just 16 households. The yields from that first season were high, and soon the charity was inundated with requests for seed potatoes. So far, 10,000 farmers in Dessie Zuria have benefited from the project, and the district administration has rolled out the program to a further 7,000 small farming operations.
“The potato is now becoming a main crop in Dessie Zuria. And nutrition has improved,” says Concern project manager Merid Fantaye. Seid can attest to this. His family now eats potatoes at least four times a week — daily if there is a food shortage. “The potato is a solution for hunger,” he says.
Source: Concern Worldwide
Syngenta has announced the launch of Amphore Plus, a new dedicated alternaria (early blight) and potato blight spray that effectively tackles the two key foliar blight diseases in one treatment. Amphore Plus combines the industry-leading blight control of mandipropamid with Difenoconazole, a new Syngenta fungicide active for potatoes that has been proven effective on all strains of alternaria. The product’s launch is the latest development in the Syngenta Potato Science initiative.
“Amphore Plus is a simple and cost-effective one-product solution to prevent alternaria and blight. The highly effective results, seen in United Kingdom and European trials, offer the chance to keep crops green and clean of disease right through the season,” says Stephen Williams, field technical manager with Syngenta.
The product has already received approval in some parts of Europe. Initial trial results indicate that alternaria-focused fungicides are best applied during canopy complete phase in crops during periods of medium- to high risk, but before onset of disease symptoms.
Source: Syngenta Crop Protection
The first International Potato Tuber Moth Symposium held in Bologna, Italy, late last fall attracted potato traders, processors, agronomists and advisers from around the world. The event concentrated on how new technology is helping to protect crops from this emerging pest.
Delegates were given a good insight into the tuber moth’s potential for damaging potato crops and methods for its management and control. Because the pest poses a significant problem in stored potatoes, the importance of controlling the insect in the field prior to harvest was stressed.
“Putting tubers into storage that contain PTM eggs or larvae can have devastating consequences,” says Giuseppe Ceparano, food industry manager for DuPont. “We have seen cases where entire stores have been rendered unfit for sale as a result of PTM damage. Once in the store, it is very difficult to control the pest, so growers should really be looking to control the pest in the field.”
Delegates were introduced to a tool being offered by DuPont that monitors PTM population development during the season and has delivered some significant benefits in high-value crops such as potatoes and tomatoes. DuPont Evalio AgroSystems monitors pest development and movement during the season and sends advance warnings to growers via SMS or email. Unlike other services that monitor pests locally, the DuPont service looks at whole regions or even countries. The use of this service allows more efficient and effective use of crop protection products.
“Knowing when potato tuber moths are going to be present allows growers to get the maximum benefit from [their] crop protection program by using the most appropriate product at the optimum timing. It can even save money, since applications can be made according to threat level rather than on a traditional calendar basis,” adds Ceparano. “Controlling PTM in the field means potatoes can enter storage free from eggs or damaging larvae. More targeted use of crop protection products can help minimize environmental impact and improve long term sustainability.”
Kenya is betting on new varieties of potatoes to boost production and meet surging demand for fast foods by an expanding middle class. Under a bilateral deal with lead potato seed producer the Netherlands, the government has cleared four new potato seed varieties for use by local farmers. The deal with the Netherlands allows private seed companies to import certified potato seeds for sale in the local market.
“This agreement is based on the premise that the Netherlands is the world leader in potato seed production and has elite varieties that could easily adapt to Kenyan conditions,” says Sicily Kariuki, Kenya’s agriculture principal secretary.
In Kenya, the potato is the second most important food crop after maize, with the country ranked as sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth biggest producer of the tuber. Kenya produced 5.6 million tonnes of potatoes in 2012, a 90 per cent increase over the 2.4 million tonnes harvested in 2011.
Experts, however, say this level of productivity — which translates into between 7.5 tonnes and 9.5 tonnes per hectare — is far below the nation’s potential of 40 tonnes per hectare that countries in Europe and North Africa produce. Use of uncertified seeds and the high prevalence of diseases have been cited as reasons for low production.
Under the deal with the Netherlands government, the Kenya Plant Inspectorate Service intends to raise the level of certified seeds in circulation from two to four per cent in the short term and up to 50 per cent in five years.
Source: The East African.co