Govt moves to arrest Irish potato shortages  Irish potatoes

Edgar Vhera Agriculture Specialist Writer

GOVERNMENT has committed 6 750 hectares to Irish potato production, as it moved to announce its 2024 winter cropping plan on 137 000ha of irrigable land across the country.

This comes on the backdrop of a decline in table potato availability on the market emanating from perceived high cost of production with the value added tax (VAT) on seed potato imports set to be removed in the second half of the year.

Said Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development permanent secretary, Professor Obert Jiri: “The 2024 winter plan on 137 000ha irrigable land across the country is as follows: 120 000ha wheat, 7 000ha barley, 3 250ha winter maize/sorghum and 6 750ha Irish potato. Mainly, members of the Horticultural Development Council (HDC) will lead in Irish potato production.”

Zimbabwe Seed Potatoes Companies Associations (ZSPCA) chairman, Mr Peter Steyl said a significant amount of seed was required to do this hectarage adding that the shortage of seed on the South African (SA) market was likely going to dent this dream.

“The Government ought to realise that planting a crop that size requires approximately 20 000 tonnes of seed at an average of three tonnes per hectare. There is a shortage of seed in SA at the moment,” the ZSPCA chair said.

He also highlighted that water levels in some dams was low or empty due to the El Nino drought while the fact that VAT was still being charged on potato seed imports would also contribute to lowering the hectarage to be planted.

Seed Services Institute head in the Department of Research and Specialist Services, Mr Edmore Mtetwa, however, argued that there was no potato seed shortage on the South African market.

“Imports of seed are only a stopgap measure to augment locally produced seed in order to meet the immediate seed supply requirements.

“As such, there will not be any seed shortages for potato farmers with local seed houses now implementing a localisation plan for seed potato production to ensure self-sufficiency in the near future,” he said.

Meanwhile, table potato supply on local markets is now picking up after supplies had dipped to around 50 percent of normal volumes due to various factors such as high production costs, El Nino weather and seed shortage among others.

Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA) chief executive officer Dr Charles Dhewa said table potato trading was gradually improving although it had not reached the 500 tonnes daily mark at the Mbare Market.

“The supply of potatoes has now risen to around 400 tonnes daily but still below the 500 mark possible when all things are normal. The price also has responded by going down from US$15 per 15 pocket of extra-large potatoes to around US$13 due to improved supplies,” he said.

Potato pricing in United States dollars is a result of the unavailability of the local currency, the Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG) notes with no electronic payments in ZiG happening at the moment, he pointed out.

Potatoes are fast becoming a staple commodity in the country due to change in consumption patterns from being maize-centric with many households options like wheat-based products like macaroni in their everyday life.

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