Seed potato in Rwanda

Production of Irish potato is on the rise in the highlands of Rwanda and is considered a priority crop in the North and West regions of the country. Potato average yield in Rwanda is relatively low even though Rwanda is among top 5 producing countries in Africa. But there is high potential to close the gaps if improved pre and post harvest practices are introduced. Average consumption of Irish potato for one household member is 150 kg per year and up to 250 kg /year in some areas such as Gishwati, where potato production is very intensive.

In Kadahenda, potato farmers face many challenges including low quality seed, pests and diseases which lead to low productivity and limited expansion of the crop. It was identified that a training course to improve practices would benefit the potato value chain in this part of the country.

The International Potato Center (CIP) is working in Kadahenda, in the Western region, to strengthen awareness on potato production through the Innovation Platform (IP) of the CGIAR Research Program on HumidTropics. The team is working in collaboration with other partners like Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and Imbaraga (a local NGO) to provide farmers with support to improve potato productivity, storage and marketing in the area.

To this end, a training was recently held for IP members on various aspects of integrated crop management: soil conservation and fertility management; crop husbandry, post-harvest, marketing and nutrition.

The Executive Secretary of Karago sector officially opened the training and highlighted that the event provided opportunity to improve farmers’ knowledge and skills along the potato value chain in Rwanda and that improved capacity of value chain actors was a priority for local government so that actors had the capacity and technology to improve the quality and quantity of potatoes as industrial processing companies are being established in the country. The key issues that were covered in the training included:

Integrated soil conservation and fertility management

Erosion was identified as a key issue particularly for those farmers working in erosion-intensive environmental conditions. Erosion is one of the top challenges faced by farmers in the highlands as it causes land degradation and washes away the soil fertility. Soil organic matter plays a significant role in stabilizing the soil and controlling erosion. So farmers were trained on the importance of preventing soil erosion and the application of organic and mineral fertilizers to increase crop yields.

Planting techniques and fertilizer application

The success of a potato crop starts with the planting. A recent study conducted by CIP shows that poor quality seed is the major potato yield gap driver in Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, farmers were taught when to plant and why, what to plant and how to plant through several topics, including seasonal calendar, seed potato, planting density and fertilization.

Identification and control of pests and diseases

Pests and diseases such as cutworms, aphids, leafminers, bacterial wilt and late blight were identified as key challenges for smallholder farmers. Farmers were trained in how to identify and manage pests and diseases, including prevention of disease occurrence and spread. In Kadahenda, bacterial wilt was identified as one of the most destructive diseases for potato farmers. During the session farmers were taught how this disease can be easily identified using a glass of clean water. Broadly, farmers were trained in a variety of ways to deal with pests and diseases including: use of resistant or tolerant varieties, optimal use of pesticides, crop rotations and soil health improvement.

Post maturity practices

Farmers were trained in post maturity practices including: dehaulming for seeds, improved harvesting techniques and storage techniques.

Dehaulming for seed production

Maturity of potato is typically characterized by change in color of the canopy. The size of the potato tuber will depend on the maturity stage of the crop. It is important that farmers harvest the crop once the required size of the tuber is reached: large tubers are for market and medium or small size tubers for seed. The importance of dehaulming two weeks before harvest was emphasized to help farmers to produce high quality seed. Farmers were trained in dehaulming methods to prevent the tubers being removed from the soil or being attacked by pests and diseases.

Harvesting techniques

Farmers often harvest early which significantly decreases yields as the tuber bulking phase becomes shortened. When potato is harvested before full maturity, the tubers will have a long dormancy and the skin can easily come off. It was emphasized that farmers should not harvest their crop before time and that when they do they should ensure the soil is relatively dry and should use appropriate tools. It was recommended that farmers take out any rotten or damaged tubers so they do not spoil the rest of the harvest. All tubers should be removed from the field to lessen the likelihood of disease spread.

Storage techniques

Examples of low cost storages facilities called Diffused Light Store (DLS) were virtually shown to the farmers. Similar structures from Tanzania, Ethiopia and Mozambique being promoted by CIP were used as good examples of storage options. Good storage facilities allow farmers to store potato for longer periods of time which gives them flexibility in planning as they speculate for better market prices. An emphasis was placed on the need to produce quality seed in order to produce high yield and a healthy crop. Positive seed selection was recommended as a good approach for poor farmers to use.

The training was run as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Humidtropics East and Central Africa Action Area which is working to increase the yield production of Irish potato and enhance the livelihood of farmers in countries in sub Saharan Africa. The program takes an integrated approach to strengthen systems and value chains. Working across six countries (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo – South Kivu, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya) the program aims to enhance the livelihood of farmers, improve access to technology and improving capacity of value chain actors.

Humidtropics, is a CGIAR Research Program led by IITA, which seeks to transform the lives of the rural poor in tropical Americas, Asia and Africa. It uses integrated systems research and unique partnership platforms for better impact on poverty and eco-systems integrity. Core program partners are: AVRDC, Bioversity International, CIAT, CIP, FARA, ICIPE, ICRAF, IITA, ILRI, IWMI, and WUR.