The Zimbabwe Potato Micro-propagation Association (ZPMA), housed at the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) spearheaded the resuscitation of seed potato production since it stalled around 2008.
The current mandate is to substitute imported seed potato with locally-grown varieties in order to save foreign currency, provide local jobs and to safeguard against the importation of devastating diseases such as PVY and new strains of common diseases like early and late blight.
The seed multiplication programme commenced during the second half of the year 2019.
As at June 30, 2020, a total of 376 981 (9,4 hectares) Diamond variety (G1-G3) seed potato tubers and 65 122 (1,5 hectares) of Hermes variety (G1) had been produced. Later in the year 2020, commercial seed (Diamond G4) was already available on the market.
Then, production spread to growers in Norton, Centenary, Goromonzi, Kadoma, Mazowe/Concession, Mvurwi, Norton and Hwedza.
At the end of June 2021, the hectarages for the different seed classes and varieties were as follows; G1 (Diamond – 4 hectares, Hermes – 5 hectares); G2 (Diamond – 6 hectares) and G3 (Diamond – 36 hectares, Hermes – 10 hectares).
Thus, the total area under seed potatoes was 61 hectares. Activities under the ZPMA continued to expand with 18 new seed potato growers being recruited to cater for the increased hectarage required for G3 and G4 seed potato production which resulted in operations growing to areas such as Lalapanzi, Gweru, Mwenezi, Middle-Sabi, Mhangura, and Mt. Darwin.
By 31 December 2021, a total of 62 hectares of the commercial grade Diamond, G4 seed potato was established. The hectarages established for the different seed classes and varieties were as follows; Diamond (all generations) a total of 145 hectares and Hermes (all generations) a total of 37 hectares.
Thus, the total area under seed potatoes achieved during the period was 182 hectares. During the corresponding period, thirty-nine new seed potato growers were recruited to cater for the increased hectarage required for G3 and G4 seed potato production.
And, as of 30 June 2022, a total of 121 hectares of Diamond (all generations) and 25 hectares of Hermes (all generations) were established.
In summary, the period 2020 to 2022 has seen the number of seed potato growers increasing from 6 to 118, with 72 growers currently having crops in the field.
Current crop sizes for commercial grade G4 seed potato are 51 hectares for Diamond and 2 hectares for Hermes; and for all generations, we have 125ha from 52 growers for Diamond and 33 ha from 20 growers for Hermes.
ZPMA is currently evaluating 33 different Irish potato varieties for suitability as either processing or table potato for onward recommendation to the potato industry. It is anticipated that the seed potato program will continue to expand to meet local demand and even become a net exporter for some varieties.
Thus, the programme will not only achieve import substitution and save scarce foreign currency, but will also become a foreign currency earner as well as creating the much-needed local jobs.