Individual ambient ware potato storage excels in Uganda


A simple, low-cost innovation could increase smallholder potato farmers’ income, earning them a net profit of Shs5million per year while requiring less than one year to pay off their investment.

Improved individual ambient storage units allow proper ware potato storage for up to three months, are easy to maintain, require reasonable initial investment, and yet adoption of this simple technology has lagged behind the hopes of researchers and agricultural extension workers.

“We need to provide more education about the advantages of improved storage units for ware potato,” said Pieter Wauters, a scientist at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Kampala.  “As well, we need to work with cooperatives and financial institutions to create affordable financial products that will enable farmers to invest in these units.”

Potato, commonly known as Irish Potato, is an increasingly popular crop in Uganda. For now, the majority of potato is grown in the southwestern and eastern highlands of the country, primarily by smallholder farmers.  Although off-season production does occur, Ugandan farmers generally grow two rounds of potato per year, between March and July and September and January. 

Currently, only a small fraction of farmers store potato for selling later as ware potato, primarily because of their immediate needs for cash, low potato yields, fear of losing potato due to pests and diseases, and lack of adequate storage facilities. Most potato goes directly from field to market, and farmers struggle to find ways to save and/or preserve potato for year-round sales to avoid market price fluctuations, caused by gluts and scarcity of this crop. If farmers could store ware potato on-farm, they could continue supplying markets in the off-seasons, fetch higher prices and solidify their revenue streams.

“Right now, farmers in Uganda tend to use light stores or light rooms in the house for potato storage,” says Monica Parker, a senior scientist at CIP. “But these units are suitable only for storing seed potato because light promotes sprouting. Improved units that are dark and allow temperature control by taking advantage of the cool air at night could enable farmers to store ware potato up to three months while maintaining its quality and marketability.”

A research team from CIP and Makerere University, with financial support from the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, have provided strong evidence for improved individual ambient stores as a wise investment. The team examined the management and profitability of improved individual (eight metric tonnes and 10-year lifespan) and group (50 metric tonnes and 10-year lifespan) storage units, with construction costs of Shs4million and Shs55million, respectively. Both types of stores were piloted during earlier projects. 


Improved individual ambient ware potato stores piloted in Eastern Uganda. All photos by Pieter Wauters


Improved group ambient ware potato stores piloted in Eastern and Southwestern Uganda.

Only a few of the group storage units generated profits.  Furthermore, all of them appeared to present several challenges typical of collective action endeavours such as ensuring good maintenance of the store, low net cash flow returning to the group, unequal participation of group members, and overall low storage capacity use.

“The individual units, however, performed very well with an average payback period of three to four years,” said Alice Turinawe, researcher and lecturer at Makerere University. “That payback period could be reduced to less than one year if these stores are used at full capacity.” Indeed, using the available storage capacity of the units is critical to profitability as it reduces the payback period significantly and frees up farmers sooner to begin earning high profits. “Furthermore, the farmers also reported that these types of stores are easy to maintain and can be shared informally with other farmers within the community to increase storage capacity use.”

Due to their characteristics, improved individual ambient ware potato stores thus seem to be particularly suitable to increase substantially the income of potato farming households, including female-headed households. In the meantime, Wauters says CIP will focus on liaising with national institutions and development partners of Uganda to promote the technology. More work is needed to promote awareness on good ware potato storage practices and to create financial products that enable farmers to make the investments needed for start-up without impacting the income needed to run their farms.

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This story is sponsored by International Potato Center