Researchers in drive to boost improved potato production in Lushoto

20Mar 2018
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Researchers in drive to boost improved potato production in Lushoto

IN a bid to address climate-related risks in Lushoto District, Tanga Region the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has coordinated a partnership of local government and research organisations.

The International Potato Centre (CIP) and Tanzania’s Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) are working with the Lushoto District Council in Tanga Region to increase farmers' resilience to climate change.

In 2011, farmers did not think it was possible to grow potatoes three times a year.

The potato farmers could not plant more than one crop cycle per year due to lack of suitably adapted varieties, knowledge of improved agronomic practices, and viable, high quality seed.

Six years later, thanks to positive changes in these three areas, they now grow potatoes in three cycles per year, using early two early-maturing varieties known as Shangi and Unica (Mkanano).

These varieties take 90 days to reach physiological maturity, tripling the production and benefits for a 12-month period.

“Six years ago, we were growing potatoes only once per year during the long rainy season of March to May.

Local varieties like Kidinya were attacked by diseases and we could only plant it once a year, to avoid drier months when disease pressure was high.

The partnership facilitated by CCAFS guided us to form savings and credit cooperative organisations, and through them we co-evaluated better-adapted potato varieties that suit our needs, such as Shangi and Unica (Mkanano), which take 90 days in the field, Asante, which takes 100 days, and Mvono, which takes 120 days,” said young farmer Florian Vitus and Mputa Mputa of Kwesine and Kwekitui villages.

The improved varieties are not only high yielding but also have resistance to late blight disease and are able to withstand high temperatures.

The potato participatory varietal selection started in the administrative villages of Kwesine and Boheloi in early 2014 and involved 50 farmers.

On the first attempt, farmers who planted potato varieties meant for consumption more than doubled the yield, from 3.5 tonnes per hectare for local varieties to at least 7.6 tonnes per hectare for the improved varieties.

Farmers who chose to grow the potatoes for seed production but not consumption also doubled their yield. For example, the Asante variety yielded 1 tonne per hectare for the seed potatoes compared to 500 kg per hectare for the Kidinya variety.

This yield doubling effect energized the farmers, and the message spread rapidly. Within six months, the adjacent administrative villages of Maringo, Kwekitui, and Milungui had embraced the co-evaluation trials, involving 135 farmers. Two years later, by the first rainy season of 2016, more than 1,000 farmers were planting the Asante variety in Lushoto.