Quality Seed Potato Enables Farmers to Move Beyond Poverty in Africa

Funders: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development/GIZSyngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

Potato holds great promise for reducing hunger and poverty in Africa, but with average yields of 6 to 12 tons per hectare (compared to 35-45 tons/ha in Europe and North America), the continent’s smallholder farmers are far from achieving the crop’s potential. One reason for this is that most farmers plant seed potatoes they save from their last harvest, or purchase at a local market, and those tubers are usually infected with viruses or other pathogens that reduce yields.

CIP is thus using an integrated approach to improve potato harvests in various African countries by increasing farmer access to quality seed potatoes of high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties. To accomplish this, CIP works with partners that include government institutions, NGOs, cooperatives and businesses. The strategy includes facilitating the production of disease-free early generation seed, promoting national efforts to regulate the use of quality seed potatoes, and building supply chains to expand seed potato availability and affordability.

CIP has spent years working to accelerate and expand seed potato production in SSA.
Seed multiplier Mary Kinya gives one kilogram of seed potatoes to a farmer to try. Photo: R. Jumah/FIPS-Africa

Current efforts build upon years of research and interventions to accelerate and expand seed potato production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). CIP developed a “3G” approach that has reduced the time it takes to produce certified seed potatoes from five-to-seven field generations to just three, and promoted the use of sand hydroponics and aeroponics. CIP scientists have recently enhanced this approach through the use of apical cuttings: plantlets grown from cuttings from disease-free mother plants that are hardened in a screen house and planted in soil once they sprout roots. This method produces more disease-free seed tubers in less time and for less money than other seed multiplication technologies.

Experience has shown that smallholders who use quality seed potatoes produce better harvests – and thereby enjoy greater food security and incomes – than farmers who don’t. One study in Kenya found that farmers who used high-quality seed doubled their incomes from the sale of ware potatoes in just two years. Nevertheless, the cost and difficulty of obtaining quality seed potatoes, and a lack of awareness of their potential, have prevented the vast majority of African farmers from using them.

CIP has thus trained hundreds of independent farmers and members of cooperatives and youth groups to become decentralized seed multipliers (DSM), and connected them to government agencies or businesses that can sell them disease-free tubers or rooted apical cuttings as starting material. By multiplying that material and selling seed potatoes to smallholders, those DSMs have introduced tens of thousands of farmers to the power of quality planting material.

To help farmers get the best possible yields from their seed potatoes, CIP and partners have also trained approximately 100,000 potato farmers in SSA in good farming practices. Additionally, members of cooperatives and youth groups have received training in business skills, to help them build successful seed enterprises. Seed multipliers that have participated in the project are now earning an average of US $3,000 per hectare, compared to farmers surveyed in Kenya who earned an average of US $1,325 per hectare for ware potatoes in a season when market prices were high.

Youth group members Fabian Biwott and Plilemon Kimutou grow seed potatoes from rooted apical cuttings.
Seed multiplier Harun Kirimi with seed potatoes of the variety Asante. Photo: R. Jumah/FIPS-Africa

Mary Kinya, a DSM in Kenya’s Meru County, suffered meager yields before receiving training and certified seed potatoes from CIP partner Farm Input Promotions Africa. She was amazed when her first potato harvest from certified seed produced the equivalent of 26.75 tons per ha – more than double the average local yield.. Kinya saved a third of those potatoes for planting, sold a third as seed, gave one-kg bags to 100 farmers to plant, and sold or saved the rest for food. Local farmers pre-ordered much of her next seed potato harvest.

“I never knew the local seed I was planting was one of the reasons my potato production was poor,” she said. “Life was a real challenge before I became a seed multiplier, but today, I have enough money to buy good food for my family,”

In Ethiopia, CIP has supported government agencies in the promotion of quality declared planting material as an alternative to certified seed, with comparable results. CIP and partners provided training in quality seed production to approximately 150 potato cooperatives, which purchase early generation seed from the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research for multiplication and sale. This has resulted in more than 200,000 Ethiopian farmers using quality declared seed potato. CIP and national partners conducted a study of 116 of those farms and found that their yields were 63 percent greater than those of farmers who didn’t use quality seed.

Thus far, this initiative has gotten quality seed potatoes to more than 380,000 farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi, plus about 100,000 in several other SSA countries, which means CIP is quickly approaching its target of reaching 600,000 farmers. At the same time, CIP and partners have validated technologies that can be taken to scale to improve the food security and livelihoods of a growing number of potato farming families.

Related Research:

Productivity and food security effects of using of certified seed potato: the case of Kenya’s potato farmers

Tackling Low Potato Yields in Eastern Africa: an Overview of Constraints and Potential Strategies

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