Demand for potatoes goes up
According to the USsaid Smallholder Technology and Access to Markets Programme, demand for the nutritious crop has increased and production also needs to be increased to reduce imports.
“It is estimated that the local market is operating at 50 percent capacity, but it is difficulty for new farmers to penetrate the potato market,” the report said.
The report said the cost of production for potatoes is the main reason why only a few smallholder farmers had taken up potato farming.
It costs between US$4 500 and US$6 500 per hectare of potatoes produced, which is too much for these small-scale farmers but the high returns offered and the short production period facilitate rapid establishment of cropping programmes and enhances farm development.
Farmers can realise between US$0,67 to US$0,80 per kg. Demand for potatoes in Zimbabwe is high and it is expected that the consumption will increase due to the projected rise in availability.
“Traditionally, potatoes have been grown by large commercial farmers in Zimbabwe but more and more smallholder farmers are growing the crop,” the report says.
Currently, communal areas around Nyanga, Mutasa, Domboshava, Chiweshe, Wedza, Goromonzi and Mhondoro are producing significant quantities of the crop. An estimated 900 to 1 000 hectares are under potato production every year.
According to the report, Mbare is Harare’s largest market for potatoes accounting for 33 percent of the 350 to 400 tonnes traded per week.
In 2010, the Agricultural Marketing Authority imposed a ban on the import of potatoes from South Africa as local producers were failing to compete with the prices of South African potatoes.
However, stricter measures to enforce the ban would have resulted in serious shortages as local producers cannot yet meet the demand.
According to industry sources, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and Hwange markets need 300 tonnes per week while Mutare needs a lower 23 tonnes per week.
However, in May this year, farmers’ unions in Zimbabwe agreed to seek funds from Agribank to embark on a massive potato production to mitigate the effects of this season’s failed summer crop.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa is on record as saying more than 500 hectares of land was expected to be put under potato production as from July, and this would increase based on the demand.
The 2012-2013 summer cropping season saw a drastic reduction of maize yield from the annual 2,2 million metric tonnes to around 1,2 million metric tonnes.
Other food crops such as soyabean and wheat also performed badly this season.
Potatoes have proven to be an important crop component in the creation of viable cropping programmes for most farms.
There is also a national potato programme in place which aims to enhance food security, improve standards of living and national health status by making available to the nation adequate volumes of nutritious and affordable potatoes produced under sustainable production conditions by the local farmer.
The aim of the national programme is to make potatoes available to the customer at an affordable price, at the same time allowing the farmers to remain in the farming business.
Doing so will reduce costs and increase farmer profits and in the long run, result in improved standards of living.
The national programme is targeting to at least double potato consumption over the next 12 months.
According to a 2010 report by USAID on market access ,Mbare is Harare’s largest market for potatoes, accounting for 33 percent of the 350-400 tonnes traded per week. The Mbare market pays cash on delivery, while the formal market may take up to a month to pay farmers who are reluctant to participate in these formal channels even when the offering price is 20 percent higher.
Potatoes grown in heavy clay soils are the most popular as they tend to have a longer shelf life and fetch higher prices. In January 2011, farmers growing in sandy soils earned US$0.67/kg for large potatoes, while those growing in clay soils earned US$0.80/kg , reflecting a 19 percent increase. The bulk of potatoes are sold unwashed in 15 kg pockets, but a market has emerged for washed potatoes since the dollarization of economy.
Eighty percent of all unwashed potatoes are bought by hotels, restaurants, and processors. Washed potatoes are only available in supermarkets in smaller pack sizes, catering to higher-income customers who pay a 15 percent premium. Two companies, Selby and Interfresh, have already invested in potato washing machines.