|It’s time we support potato farming|
|Friday, 13 July 2012 08:07|
Financing potato production has been a major challenge to many of these farmers, and many could not even access loans from banks, resulting in their operations suffering still births.
Major constraints faced by the farmers include non availability and high cost of fertiliser, lack of quality seed at affordable price and lack of loans to acquire inputs and labour.
Other constraints and threats to seed and table potato production include bacterial wilt disease, late blight, viruses, and ignorance of farmers on benefits of planting quality seed and of crop husbandry or disease management, shortage of manpower for potato research and development activities and limited infrastructures.
Power outages have also affected irrigation of the crop.
However, only five years ago and in a bid promote potato farming, the Government declared the crop a strategic and potential food security crop.
Sadly, the declaration was not matched with significant assistance by the same Government to jolt potato production, enhance food security, and improve standards of living of farmers and ultimately the national health status.
But on Wednesday, revelations by the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Dr Joseph Made that the Government has started distributing critical inputs in all strategic potatoes farming communities could not come at an opportune time.
We hail the Government's resolute support for potato farmers in the 2012/13 season, no matter how small it may be, because the gesture was long overdue.
In the order of priority of support, potato production was never an issue, with crops like maize, cotton, tobacco, wheat and other small grains pulling the strings.
Since cheaper potato varieties used across the country are only found in Nyanga and it is a welcome development that the GMB Nyanga has received its allocation of inputs, and they are ready for distribution among farmers before the July deadline.
"GMB Nyanga has already received its allocation of Compound C fertiliser and potato farmers in the area should start accessing their allocations. This is meant to capacitate seed potato farmers in Nyanga.
“All categories of potato producers are expected to benefit under this scheme," said Dr Made.
It is also our plea to the powers that be in the distribution of these critical inputs to ensure their equitable, transparent and honest distribution. No famer should be denied access on political grounds or on the basis that they are preserved for a powerful few. Treat farmers equally and with respect.
It is also our appeal to Dr Made to ensure that more imports for this sector are availed because the current consignment falls short of the needs of the farmers. This, however, does not mean that the gesture is insignificant. NO. It goes a long way in easing challenges faced by the farmers, but a little more could have a more productive outcome.
"I want fairness. I do not want anyone to interfere with operations of the GMB. The depot manager should do things fairly and carefully. We need every farmer to get at least something. We need to assist these farmers as much as we can and we do not want them to be short-changed in favour of a few individuals. The farmers must start collecting their fertiliser. There is no point in the GMB holding on the fertiliser as if the farmers cannot keep it for themselves."
This is good news in the eyes of the farmers because lack of affordable inputs was making it difficult for resource-poor but interested farmers to break into the sector and leave a mark given that the cost of producing a hectare of seed potato hovers around $9 000 excluding fuel and labour costs.
The readily availability and cost of basic fertilisers such as Compound C was a major concern.
A 50kg bag costs $35 to $40 on the black market which is way above the reach of the farmers.
In view of the actual and potential role that the potato crop plays and can play on improving the livelihood of farmers and farmers' families, it is of paramount importance to develop strategies to increase production and farmers revenues.
Key strategies should aim at facilitating access by farmers to key production inputs such as fertiliser, quality seed, pesticides, loan for purchase of inputs; empowering farmers through training to improve quality of self-supply planting materials using positive selection techniques, crop management and disease/pest control and identifying and training farmers on seed multipliers strategic areas and supervising seed multiplication activities.
We would also like to appeal to the banking sector to follow the footsteps of Trust Bank, which last year unlocked a $600 000 loan facility to boost potato production in the country. The facility comes on the back of financing challenges facing those in the production of the energy-rich tuber, which is mostly grown in Manicaland.
We hope other players will come on board and help the nation to ensure food security.