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East Africa: 30% more potatoes due to better seed-potato selection

Farmers in East Africa can increase their potato production by 30 percent provided they select their seed-potatoes better. By buying only seed-potaoes from healthy mother plants the pressure of disease decreases considerably, Peter Gildemacher, doctoral student at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, says.

East African farmers, most of them small farmers, select their seed-potatoes from the bulk of harvested potatoes at the moment. This causes a lot of virus issues and brown rot in the potato and a low yield of on average 10.5 tons/HA. The farmers therefore must buy their seed-potatoes from specialised seed-potato companies, international organisations advise. But that needs a change in the running of the companies – the farmers now plant their own potatoes or exchange with their neighbours – and causes extra expense for the farmers. Therefore only 5 percent of the seed-potatoes comes into countries, such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia from specialised companies.

Gildemacher researched the re-introduction of the technology to select seed-potatoes from healthy looking mother plants. During field tests at 18 different locations he investigated the effect of this self selection in respect of the usual practice, in which farmers obtain their seed-potatoes from the bulk of the harvested potatoes. These field trials showed that the yield of self selection increased by 30% whilst the pressure of disease by potato viruses decreased by 35 to 40 percent. A big advantage, Gildemacher says, is that the application of self selection hardly costs the farmer anything, whilst the yield of one hectare of potatoes increases by 250 to 300 Euro.

As part of his program Gildemacher, who worked for the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Nairobi between 2003 and 2007, launched a cost effective training program in order to train a large number of small farmers to select the best seed-potatoes themselves. He does, however, mention, that regular changing of seed-potatoes by disease-free starting material from the specialised companies can result in higher yields than self selection only, but that self selection is certainly to be advised during the interim seasons. The approach of Gildemacher has been added to the agricultural information in Kenya and will also be included in countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique and Angola. These countries want to increase the productivity of the potato cultivation in order to satisfy the growing demand.

Source: Wageningen UR

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