New potato varieties key to EU market

Small-scale agribusiness entrepreneurs can seize the massive sweet potato market opening in Europe and cash in by growing quick maturing and high-yielding varieties from Malawi.

The six orange flesh sweet potatoes were developed in 2011 by the Department of Agriculture Research Services. 

Malawian sweet potato breeder Dr Felistus Chipungu says they have high tolerance to viral diseases  and weevils. Their flesh is orange in colour. common potatoes are while or cream.

With the lowest variety taking up to six months to yield between four and eight tonnes per acre, quicker types are ready for harvesting in three months posting a yield of up to 14 tonnes from the same acreage.

Varieties

For instance the Ana Akwanire variety, Dr Chipungu says, can produce between five to seven medium sized roots to yield 10 tonnes per acre in five to six months.

Chipika and Kadyaubwerere, which mature in four to five months also yields big roots, and a farmer can harvest up to 14 tonnes per acre.

Khaphulira gives same tonnage after four months. Mathuthu gives 10 tonnes per acre after a similar duration, the researcher says.

Zondeni variety is the slowest maturing taking six months and lowest yielding posting an average harvest of three tonnes per acre.

Ripening market

Fresh Plaza, a global fresh produce publication, reports that demand for potatoes has doubled in Europe in five years-since 2011. 

In 2014, the European Union imported 124 tonnes of the produce.

United Kingdom sweeps 44 per cent of the total import to the continent, translating to 82,000 tonnes per year. The potatoes are consumed domestically, with a dismal portion being re-exported after processing.

Netherlands is second to the UK, capturing 24 per cent of the total potato import into the continent.  But 36 per cent of 44,000 tonnes imported is re-exported to the continent's hinterlands where demand is highest.

Other important markets for the food, which accounts for about one per cent of the global export are Germany, France,Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Portugal, among others.

Set foot

The EU market majorly relies on the US' 1.1 million tonnes  total produce, which is also in demand in the North American state, leaving little for export.

Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania Senegal and South Africa are among the few countries in the African continent that have set foot into this rich market. 

Sweet potatoes do well in fertile fine tilted seed beds, raised to a height of about 30 centimetres.

Spacing of the vines should be at 30cm by 50cm.

They require enough rain, but in case of irrigation, water logging is discouraged because it encourages infections.

Planting materials for these varieties are available at the International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi and other designated distributors.