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The Potato (Solanum Tuberosum) (not to be confused with sweet potato) is a root and tuber crop. Its rich starch content makes it the fourth most cultivated and the most consumed non-grain crop in the world. Potato is widely believed to have first being cultivated in the Andes region. Studies have shown that potato cultivation is responsible for one-fourth of the growth in the old world population and urbanization, as such potato is very important to man.
In Nigeria, it is the third most important root and tuber crop after yam and cassava. It was introduced to Nigeria by European miners around the 1940’s, and with a total yield of 180 tonnes then, its cultivation has come a long way with yields of over 1,000,000 tons in 2012 harvested from over 300,000 hectares of farmland. With a need for a temperature between 150C and 300C, potato is majorly cultivated in Plateau state, although it can be planted on the highlands of Obudu plateau in Cross River and Mambilla Plateau in Borno State. During the harmattan season (months), potato can be successfully planted in other northern states like Borno, Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Yobe, Jigawa, Gombe, Zamfara, Sokoto, Bauchi and Kebbi under an irrigation-fed system.
Climatic conditions play a very important role in potato cultivation, as some key developmental stages such as tuber formation are dependent on temperature. With this is in mind, the potato can be planted year round in Plateau state, as the State meets the climatic requirement of potato, but can only be planted during harmattan months in other Northern state. In Jos, Plateau state, the uplands are cultivated during the rainy season, while the Fadama(which are flooded valley plains) are cultivated in the dry season. Potato planted during the rainy season are harvested around 80 days after planting to prevent it from being infected by the late blight disease, a disease that thrives in the rainy season, this early harvesting result in a lower yield in the the rainy season. It should be planted around April-May for rain fed cultivation and around November –December for irrigation-fed system.
The potato is planted using the vegetative method. It is grown by either planting what is called ‘seed potato’ ( small tubers or pieces of tuber), which are to be sown at depths of 5 cm, or by planting true potato seed, the seed potato to be planted must be free from diseases and of high quality as this affects the yield and quality of the output. The planting method varies with the cultivar been planted but regular potatoes are often grown in bags as this increases yield and reduces digging needed for harvesting. Fertilizers (NPK) should be applied and regular weeding should be done.
Photo courtesy: Devnet International. www.devnetinternational.org
In Nigeria, there are different cultivars of seed potato available, both local and imported varieties.
Local varieties includes but is not limited to:
Imported varieties which are high yielding and highly resistant to diseases includes but not limited to:
The following are the predominant diseases that affect potato in Nigeria
Late blight: the late blight is a disease caused by fungus and thrives during the rainy season, it can be prevented by early planting, the use of early maturing varieties and resistant varieties. Fungicides such as Dithane or Ridomil can also be applied.
Bacterial wilt: Like the name indicates, it is a disease caused by bacteria and is characterised by wilting, browning and stunted growth of the plant. To prevent the occurrence of this disease, it is best to plant resistant varieties and in cases of occurrence, affected crops should be destroyed.
The potato is matured when its leaves starts getting yellow and the tubers are easily separated from the stolons. Harvesting time depends on the intended use of the output, if it is to be stored after harvesting, they are left in the ground to allow their skin thicken for a longer period. Depending on the production size, potato can be harvested manually or with mechanized equipment, it can be harvested with spade, plough or with a commercial potato harvester.
The potato, an important crop with a world production of over 368 million tons as at 2013, is grown for its varied uses and application, some of which are listed below;
- As an important staple food that can help improve the challenge of food security, a serving of potato provides 6% of humans total daily Recommended Dietary Allowance.
- As an important component in animal feed production.
- Potato Starch is used in the food industry as soup thickeners.
- Potato starch is also used in the textile and adhesives industries.
- Potato is also processed into several value-added products such as fries and crisps for human consumption.
The potato value chain in Nigeria although with huge potential is not operating at its peak, the lapses in this industry provides a window of opportunity for investors to operate in. The following are some of the investment opportunities that abound in the Potato value chain:
- There is a shortage of certified and healthy seed in Nigeria, with a demand of about 1 million tons of seed. Hence, the breeding and sale of good and certified true potato seed is bound to thrive.
- There is an increased demand in processed potato products, and a concurrent scarcity of foreign exchange, this has led to supply deficit of processed potato. The scarcity of processed potatoes caused by unavailability of FOREX translates to an opportunity to engage in large scale potato cultivation locally, In the same vein, it translate to an opportunity to process locally sourced potato as there are few companies involved in this at the moment.
- Potato is one of the most cultivated crops in the world and it is still very much in demand
- It is the most efficient root and tuber crop grown in Nigeria in terms of yield and days to maturity.
- The forex ban on products has affected the import of processed potatoes, leaving a market worth about N16 bn open for investors to penetrate.
- The increasing rate of urbanization has also led to an increased consumption of French fries.
- Research has shown that there is a possible 128% rate of turnover when planting a cultivar of potato called Mirabel ( with a yield per hectare of 20 tons)
- Land tenure system: the Land Tenure Act limits the land available to farmers and discourages potato cultivation on a large scale as there is a limit to the hectarage of land a farmer can possess, although this is changing as conscious effort are been made by various government to increase farmers access to land.
- Un-availability of good and clean seed: the quality of seed available in Nigeria is poor and this affects the yield of the potato tubers produced adversely as Nigeria records one of the lowest yield per hectare of potato.
- Lack of mechanization: the process of potato cultivation to harvesting is still been done manually, this crudeness in production discourages large scale cultivation of potato
- Lack of adequate storage system: the storage method currently practiced in Nigeria is the traditional method, in which the potato tubers are harvested late and kept in the pit, this method can only sustain the quality of the potato for about a month, after which spoilage creeps in, the resulting spoilage increases the loss to the farmer, reduces revenue and discourages farmers from planting.
A technical appraisal of potato value chain in Nigeria by Ugonna C.U, Jolaoso M. O, Onwualu A. P.
Economic Analysis of Irish Potato Production in Plateau State by Ayodele Matthew Ojo
Potato production and constraints in West and Central Africa, overview and planning strategies for the future by the International Potato Center.
Sylvanus Mahannan Ayuba, Michael Kitsche: Promotion of Potato Value Chains in Nigeria: Economic Development and Peace Stability in Plateau State, Nigeria, 2014.