News and knowhow for farmers

New potato varieties to boost productivity in Tanzania, Kenya could borrow some tips

Mtanga
Farms Limited (MFL), in partnership with the Tanzanian government, announced
the registration of four new potato varieties with the company promising to multiply and sell these seed potatoes
to local farmers. With access to clean seed material, Tanzanian farmers for whom
potatoes are a major cash and nutrient source will be able to increase yields
by up to three times, thereby creating a pathway out of poverty for a large
number of farmers.

Despite
its considerable attraction to African food systems and potential contribution
to food sufficiency, potato production in Tanzania has remained inefficient and
received limited attention from commercial farmers. One of the key issues
holding back productivity is the lack of access for local farmers to clean
certified seed potatoes caused by the lack of registered potato varieties in
Tanzania – a pre-condition for any farmer to produce certified seed.   Local farmers today achieve average yields
of 5-7 tonnes per hectare. With clean seed material smallholders have proven to
achieve 15-20 tonnes per hectare. Simply providing farmers with clean seed
potatoes therefore can increase incomes by a factor of three to four times.

 MFL operates on 3,000 hectares
of land under a long-term lease and focuses on the protein value chain as well
as the production of high value seeds. Approximately six years ago, MFL set out
to establish a seed potato multiplication business to service smallholder
farmers in Tanzania. To accomplish this goal, the company had to pursue a
complex process with multiple partners to register new potato varieties in
Tanzania – something that had not been done since the 1980s.

 Applying recently enacted East African
Community (EAC) regulations that permit the use of trial data from one EAC
country for the variety registration in another member country, MFL was able to
shorten the approval process from more than three years to just over fourteen
months. At the end of March 2012, the Tanzanian authorities approved the
release of four new potato varieties in the country. MFL is now servicing over 150,000 farmers with certified clean seed potatoes,
kick-starting the long overdue transformation of the potato sector in Tanzania.

Clemens Calice of Lion’s Head Global Partners
said: “ With the
registration of these new potato varieties, the government has sent a message
to Tanzania’s agriculture sector that it is serious about improving inputs and
systems.”

 Alan Mayers from Thirty Degrees East,a MFL’s partner in the  project, said: “An
efficient potato sector can be a pathway out of poverty for a large number of
farmers. The availability of these new
potato varieties can immediately address some of the key developmental
challenges in Tanzania, namely those of raising smallholder income and
providing the poorest communities with access to higher nutritional foodstuff.”

 Michael Grossman, Portfolio Manager for
International Investments at Calvert Foundation, which also partnered in the project, said: “The most powerful advertisements
for African agriculture are success stories that encourage further investment
in the sector. We are already seeing evidence of this. For example, the
Syngenta Foundation, working with commercial producers such as MFL, is setting
up a consulting and advisory business called Seeds2B that will work with the
private sector and public seed systems to make it easier to introduce new seed
varieties – and therefore spur agricultural and economic development – in
Africa.”

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