Lo­cal po­tato cul­ti­va­tion suf­fer­ing

Business a.m. - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries Temi­tayo Aiyetoto

NIGE­RIA HOLDS CON­SID­ER­ABLE stakes in African po­tato pro­duc­tion, sit­ting in the sixth po­si­tion with 1,246,380 met­ric tonnes af­ter Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Al­ge­ria and Egypt as of 2016.

NIGE­RIA HOLDS CONSIDE RABLE stakes in African po­tato pro­duc­tion, sit­ting in the sixth po­si­tion with 1,246,380 met­ric tonnes af­ter Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Al­ge­ria and Egypt as of 2016.

Over the past decade, po­tato pro­duc­tion has seen in­creases in out­put from 843,000 tonnes in 2007 to 1,206,280 in 2015. This ad­vance­ment spurred in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial that ap­pears in­her­ent in the po­tato mar­ket and, as be­ing cham­pi­oned in the gen­eral agri­cul­tural sec­tor, stake­hold­ers have ven­tured into value-chain de­vel­op­ment of po­tato, in­tro­duc­ing prod­ucts like flour, puree, bread and chips among oth­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ex­cite­ment for pro­duc­tion is not be­ing matched with growth in lo­cal con­sump­tion trend as en­joyed in other sta­ples like rice, yam, bread or beans.

busi­ness a.m. find­ings re­veal that po­tato farm­ers are find­ing it rough get­ting a vi­brant mar­ket for their pro­duce and are switch­ing fo­cus to other ar­eas.

The crop is also not com­ing top on the list of agric in­vest­ment des­ti­na­tions due to a weak mar­ket for pro­duce.

Cur­rently, the po­tato mar­ket is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a glut as pro­duc­ers strug­gle with lack of off-take and low ap­pre- cia­tion from end con­sumers, Bunmi Adeniyi, the di­rec­tor, mem­ber­ship de­vel­op­ment, In­sti­tute of Agribusi­ness Man­age­ment Nige­ria, said.

De­spite in­creased avail­abil­ity of po­tato prod­ucts in most re­tail out­lets, lo­cal pro­duc­ers scarcely ben­e­fit from the chain as a re­sult of the dom­i­nance of im­port in the value-ad­di­tion chain, with large scale con­sumers pre­fer­ring to im­port than buy tu­bers for pro­cess­ing, griped Adeniyi.

Nige­ria spends close to $250 mil­lion im­port­ing pro­cessed chips from South Africa, Bel­gium and Hol­land while it has the po­ten­tial to im­prove yield to about 25 tonnes per hectare un­der stan­dard agro­nomic prac­tice with im­proved seeds and in­puts.

“If you have a tu­ber and you don’t have mar­ket for it, will you be en­cour­aged to raise money to buy ma­chines, build fac­to­ries, crush it into pow­der only to discover that nobody is ready to buy? I planted a large ex­panse of po­tato and when we har­vested, we couldn’t sell a tu­ber. What I did was to process it into pow­der, pack­aged it and started talk­ing about the health ben­e­fits, but for al­most a year, I still have the prod­ucts of about N400,000 in my store de­spite my mar­ket­ing.

The ac­cep­tance is not there,” he ex­plained.

Olapeju Phor­bee, the coun­try man­ager, In­ter­na­tional Po­tato Cen­tre and na­tional co­or­di­na­tor, Build­ing Nu­tri­tious Food Bas­ket (BNFB), af­firmed the poor re­cep­tion for po­tato, say­ing at­tract­ing in­vest­ment in po­tato has been fac­ing pas­sive in­ter­est as weak mar­ket trend ad­versely af­fects sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion.

She, how­ever, ex­pressed op­ti­mism that things would shape up, es­pe­cially with the spe­cial pro­ject, “Scal­ing up of Bio­for­ti­fied Crops in Nige­ria” which the cen­tre em­barked upon to pro­mote the crop’s po­ten­tial.

Ac­cord­ing to her, ex­ten­sive work has been done on seed sys­tems, farm­ers train­ing, en­hance­ment of pro­duc­tiv­ity in few states and ag­gres­sive pro­mo­tion around sen­si­ti­sa­tion and train­ing for pro­ces­sors in value chain.

“This means we should go be­yond boil­ing to eat, rather we should make prod­ucts from it. We have been able to come up with some com­mer­cially vi­able prod­ucts that pri­vate sec­tors can take up in large scale pro­duc­tion. We pro­ject that more in­vest­ment in­ter­est will come into po­tato next year. Peo­ple are al­ready ex­press­ing in­ter­est in it. We are talk­ing to all stake­hold­ers like in­vest­ment and fi­nan­cial and re­search in­sti­tu­tions.

We have been en­gag­ing some in terms of sweet po­tato puree which is an in­ter­me­di­ate prod­uct that a lot of food in­dus­try can en­gage with. In­vest­ment is not so easy and friendly in Nige­ria but we are talk­ing with NIRSAL on mak­ing busi­ness case for po­tato value chain in Nige­ria,” she said.

Largely, Phor­bee be­lieves the dearth of gov­ern­ment sup­port re­mained a gap that needs to be cor­rected in terms of aware­ness around the po­ten­tial of the crop and knowl­edge of pub­lic needs of the crop.

She fur­ther pointed out that gov­ern­ment sup­port is re­quired in the area of mak­ing prod­uct regis­tra­tion eas­ier as some pri­vate sec­tor play­ers strug­gle with un­friendly regis­tra­tion pro­ce­dure in get­ting ap­proval for prod­ucts like po­tato bread, which she de­scribes as prod­ucts with po­ten­tials and prospects that needs to be en­cour­aged.

She said: “There are prod­ucts that or­gan­i­sa­tions like Tran­corp and Sher­a­ton want to take but with­out th­ese reg­is­tra­tions, they can­not be taken”.

Prof­fer­ing so­lu­tions to the poor con­sump­tion rate of the crop which is damp­en­ing in­ter­est in cul­ti­va­tion, Phor­bee said the gov­ern­ment can utilise the crop in its de­vel­op­men­tal pro­grammes across the coun­try to in­crease pro­duc­tion, not­ing it will fur­ther pro­mote the pro­duce and draw needed at­ten­tion to its ben­e­fits.

At a time when the coun­try is fight­ing vi­ta­min A de­fi­ciency, es­pe­cially among chil­dren and women, the gov­ern­ment could lever­age on the health qual­i­ties of the or­ange fleshed sweet po­tato (OFSP).

In this same vein, Adeniyi said: “There is a limit to what I can do com­pared to when gov­ern­ment takes it up and, for in­stance, says it wants to in­clude po­tato flour into meals for schools, min­istries or hos­pi­tals.

Be­fore you know, the aware­ness cov­er­age will be mas­sive and peo­ple will be en­cour­aged to go into pro­duc­tion.

I won’t even need to pro­duce. All I’ll do then is to get peo­ple to pro­duce and I con­vert into flour”.

Con­cern­ing pro­duc­tion, she be­lieves that if uti­liza­tion is done rightly, both sweet pota­toes and Ir­ish pota­toes will at­tract vi­brant mar­kets.

Ir­ish po­tato is se­lec­tive in pro­duc­tion for eco­log­i­cal rea­sons and only grows in places like Plateau state and more re­cently Kaduna.

But the lim­i­ta­tions, she said could be ad­dressed us­ing high tech­nolo­gies like aero­pon­ics and hy­dro­pon­ics rapid mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of Po­tato seeds.

“Con­sump­tion of Po­tato fries and things like French fries is a big mar­ket for po­tato that we have not tapped into. If the pro­duc­tiv­ity of farm­ers is en­hanced and we can have it all year round, it doesn’t mat­ter if it is eco­log­i­cally se­lec­tive,” she ex­plained.

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