Sarudzai Mupangi Features Writer
THE revolutionarised way of growing potatoes in sacks is set to significantly transform the lives of women and the youth from Harare South who have embraced this method in a big way.
A number of them are re-writing their stories through adoption of the lucrative way of growing potatoes as they take advantage of the pieces of land they got under land reform.
The women and youths, in a bid to fight poverty, have taken up the initiative to start self-sufficiency projects to grow potatoes in discarded sacks.
The new method was adopted from Israel and the United States of America.
A farmer gets the most out of a single plant and can harvest a maximum of 30 kilogrammes of potatoes from a single plant.
The method was only introduced in Zimbabwe early this year but many people joined the project two months ago after watching the project pioneers hit the “gold mine”.
Rekai Tangwena district chairperson for Zanu-PF Cde Naume Sibanda said people from Harare South took up the initiative after undergoing a one-day training programme.
She said the impressive market value of the potatoes has lured women and youths to start their own projects.
“So far we have 20 groups of 20 women each who are into sack potato growing and more are interested in joining us but they have not started because of financial challenges which our National Assembly member Cde Shadreck Mashayamombe is looking into,” Cde Sibanda said.
“The women in this area are fired up for this project and our energetic MP is also fired up when it comes to development and poverty alleviation matters.
“Some of the people in this area are former farm workers. They know how to grow crops but all they lack is the funding. These are the people who are being assisted.”
The first two women to venture into the project are Sofaret Badza (47) and Josephine Moyo (50) who have 7 000 plants on a single hectare of land.
They invested US$10 000 into the project two months ago and they will be harvesting their crop in the next two months. They expect to realise close to US$70 000.
The plants are grown in 90kg sacks which are filled with soil up to 25 centimetres.
More soil is added as the plant grows and the leaves mature while more potatoes are produced.
Ordinary potatoes take about three months to mature while those grown in sacks require four months.
“Using this system is an advantage for the farmers as moisture introduced to a plant stays for longer. The case is the same when one applies fertilisers to the crops while nothing is lost into the ground,” said Simola Chidhakwa, a 52-year-old mother of five who has 112 plants of her own.
“Disease control is much easier. No worm will move from one sack to the next and this results in the production of good quality tubers.”
Space constraints are not much of a challenge as long as the sacks are lined up properly.
Farmers in cities do not have to worry about that challenge since a single hectare of sack potatoes carries more plants than those planted in the ground.
Two varieties are being grown at the various projects in the area.
Mrs Sibanda, who owns the land where the project was launched, says she hopes to earn more than enough to look after her family and sustain a decent livelihood.
“I will be getting a little over US$1 000 after harvesting,” she chuckled.
This project, she said, had attracted many women and youths and this could go a long way in reducing social vices such as prostitution and crime.
Harare South constituency MP, Cde Mashayamombe, said the project was set to transform his area in a big way.
He said he had personally financed some of the projects and was in the process of engaging banks for funding while a Russian businessman Mr Aleck Geshen pledged to invest US$50 000 for the 20 groups.
More than 600 women are expected to have engaged into sack potato farming by the end of the year.
“My main target is the women. If you empower women you would have empowered the whole community,” Cde Mashayamombe said.
“I wish we could help more women but 600 is all I can manage before the end of this year. There is less labour and investment required as compared to what will be harvested.
“A farmer is guaranteed between 15 to 35kg of potatoes according to the fertiliser they would have applied. The more they invest, the more they get out of a single plant.”
Cde Mashayamombe said it was important for people in the constituency to feed themselves and produce more for resell.
He said according to the Zanu-PF manifesto the nation is on a drive to create employment and that is exactly what he was doing.
“We also hope to acquire water pumps to draw water from the nearby dam. Production costs are lower in the rainy season as farmers do not need to water their plants,” he said.
Mr Ezekiel Karimanzira, who has been working closely with Cde Mashayamombe, said there was need for people to seek solutions in their respective communities from their leaders.
He said it was a good thing that Cde Mashayamombe has been on the ground assessing people’s situations and devising ways of improving their situations.
He urged residents not to sit and mourn but to have the courage to stand up and fight poverty.
“People in this area are willing to work and most of them have the time to take care of their crops. They understand the direction our country’s economy is taking and would want to be active participants, which is a good thing for their families and the nation at large,” Mr Karimanzira said.
Women who have taken up the projects said they have had an opportunity to grow water melons, pumpkins and maize.
A 15kg pocket of potatoes is fetching around US$12 to US$15 on the local market.
A survey at Mbare Musika also showed that there is a huge demand for potatoes in the country.
Gracious Kariwo, a farmer from Maramba in Mashonaland East said the demand for potatoes has been overwhelming.
A potato is a nutritionally rich tuberous root vegetable and a good source of starch, vitamins and fibre.
The tuber is one of the most widely grown perennial crops and one of the cheapest staple food items for people all over the world.
The plant grows about 12 to 18 inches in length and bears many tubers underground.