FOR THE LOVE OF POTATOES

For the people of Jos, Plateau State and its environs, Irish potatoes production is a major livelihood source. Across board, men and women, young and old, engage in potatoes farming. Over the years, demand for the tuberous crop has risen across Nigerian cities especially in rapidly growing urban areas.  Since 2000, Imports of raw and processed potatoes have risen from less than 9 000 tonnes to 40 000 tonnes a year. In 2014, production stood at 1,248,060 tons with 270,000 hectares under cultivation, almost the same size of area under cultivation for Germany(fourth largest producer in the world). It is interesting however to note that while the area under potatoes for the two countries are almost the same, the yield per hectare distinguishes Germany from Nigeria; while Nigeria has one of the lowest  yield per hectare in the world of 5.1 tons, Germany’s stands at 52 tons(2014 est).

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Despite the low yield per hectare caused by limited availability and use of certified quality seed potato however, life is not bad for the potatoes farmers. But it can be a lot better. During harvest periods, they sell a bag of potatoes for about N4,000($20). That same bag sells for N19,000($95) during the Moslem Ramadan fast representing over 400% increase yet these small holder farmers benefit very little from the increased price as they have to sell off almost all their products at harvest. There is no potatoes storage facility on the Plateau, prompting farmers to sell off their products in order to avoid post-harvest losses.

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What would it take to construct storage facilities for commodities like potatoes?

In BarkinLadi Local Government, Plateau State, North Central, Nigeria, is a “Diffused-light potatoes storage facility with capacity to store 20 metric tons of potatoes for a period of six months, developed with funding from the Government of Germany through the GIZ. A closer look reveals that the facility builds upon Africa’s indigenous knowledge on storage using red bricks for the wall and acha (Hungary rice) straw as insulator. With this innovation, there is hope that farmers can now store and sell off their potatoes during off peak periods at higher prices.

But the question remains, how can Africa scale up such innovation and technology for the maximum benefit of its small holder farmers? How can Africa’s policy makers, researchers, private sector and value chain actors begin to concentrate on simple but yet effective technologies drawing from local and indigenous knowledge to advance its agricultural sector?

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