Potato production can increase at less cost

Irish potatoes. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • Mr Micheal J Ssali says: Uganda has the potential to produce 60 metric tonnes per hectare.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranks Irish potato as the eighth most important food crop in Uganda. It is also a cash crop with high potential for raising smallholder farmers’ income and strengthening food security. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) Uganda produced 154,435 metric tonnes of Irish potato in 2008/9 with an average yield of 4.7 tonnes per hectare. 

Western Uganda produced 87.6 per cent of the crop, followed by central region which produced 8.6 per cent, eastern region three  per cent and northern region 0.8 per cent. Today due to better agronomic practices Uganda’s annual Irish potato production has risen to 800,000 metric tonnes grown by some 300,000 farmers with average production of 7.5 metric tonnes per hectare. 

According to some studies Uganda has the potential to produce between 40 and 60 metric tonnes per hectare if farmers plant the right varieties and adopt better agronomical practices. Irish potato contributes protein, vitamins, zinc, and iron. Given our rapidly growing population it is the crop poised to boost food yields and to beat malnutrition. 

Writing in the e-newsletter “Genetic Literacy Project” on January 25, 2021, Tadessa Daba, of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research demonstrated that if Irish potatoes farmers in East Africa embraced modern biotechnology, they could beat poverty and achieve food self-sufficiency. 

He mentioned late blight, a disease that wipes out a third of the world’s potato yields, as the biggest hindrance to efficient production and productivity of the Irish potato in East Africa where smallholder farmers struggle for months, planting, weeding, and watering besides having to spray the crop with expensive fungicides to avoid crop diseases like late blight. “But there is a solution,” he wrote. 

“Researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) and International Potato Centre have developed a new variety of potato which is resistant to late blight. Using new molecular techniques, they transferred late-blight resistance genes into the popular East African potato variety Victoria.” Unfortunately the new potato variety cannot be passed on to the farmers in Uganda for growing since the government is still hesitant about genetic modification and does not have the required regulatory law on modern biotechnology.

Mr Michael Ssali is a veteran journalist and a farmer 
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