Potato makes its mark in Mongolia

The Mongolian government has commended the International Potato Center for its role in significantly increasing potato production and helping the landlocked nation achieve higher levels of sustainable development.

Potato production has been steadily increasing in Mongolia thanks to a variety of different initiatives such as the Mongolian Potato Program (MPP), which is backed by the International Potato Center (CIP). The Mongolian Ministry of Agriculture has credited the Program with helping the country increase potato production by a staggering 21.8% over the past year, and the government of Tuv Province (the biggest potato producer in Mongolia) recently commended CIP for playing a vital role in fostering this growth and awarded CIP’s Xie Kaiyun, Head of Agronomy at CIP China Center for Asia Pacific (CCCAP), a medal for contributing to sustainable development.

The MPP started in 2004 and falls under the umbrella of programs that make up the Mongolian Farmer Association for Rural Development (MFARD). CIP serves as a backing organization to the Program, currently in its exit phase (2012-2015), which is receiving financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Mongolian Ministry of Agriculture. The focus of the Program is to enhance registered new variety, produce minituber by aeroponics, provide research on early potato technology, crossbreed varieties to produce new varieties suitable for the Mongolian agro-ecological condition, conduct variety testing of common vegetable varieties, and train the young scientists.

Since its inception, the MPP has introduced CIP clones and Chinese hybrid crosses for breeding new varieties and produced elite and certified seeds through a seed production system specifically developed for the country. As a result, Mongolia’s potato production has significantly increased since 2004 with planting area enlarged from 9,079 ha in 2004 to 12,135 ha in 2012, and potato production boosted from 80,192 tons in 2004 to 242,700 tons in 2012. In the meantime, the yield was significantly increased from 8.83 t/ha to 20 t/ha. According to Tumurbat Turmandakh, the Program Coordinator for MPP, “In 2012, the initiative distributed a total of 970 tons of high-quality potato seeds to farmers throughout the country for spring planting.”

While the current total seed potato production under the supervision of the MPP is approximately 300 ha, the MPP has spearheaded initiatives across the country in 21 Aimags (Provinces) and 330 Soums (Counties) and has worked with 385 different informal seed multiplication farms. The Program currently coordinates eight research institutes and 30 formal seed multiplication farms, and works with a selected 43 companies to improve the Mongolia’s seed production systems.

As the MPP continues into its exit phase, it will focus on increasing the capacity of formal seed multiplication farms, which have been intrinsic to the success of the potato industry. According to Turmandakh, “These formalized seed farms ensure the smooth running of the seed system, vegetable variety testing, and strengthening the capacity of vegetable seed producers.”

Another important aspect of the MPP is its gender component. In 2012, an estimated 42% of the 21,600 farmers growing high-yield potato varieties were female. This is a significant rise from the estimated 16,000 female farmers in 2010. Turmandakh estimates that farmers growing these new varieties account for 75% of the total national potato production, and the role of female farmers in this production has been credited with increasing potato self sufficiency from 55% in 2004 to 140.5% in 2012. Over the course of 2012, the MPP organized eight training events, which had excellent female participation. Training in business development had a 61% proportion of female participants. The focus on gender will continue in order to ensure the equal participation of women in planning, implementation and monitoring, and decision-making.

In July 2013, CIP was invited to participate in the celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Tuv Aimag (a central Mongolian province). Tuv is the largest potato producing province in Mongolia and accounts for 42% of the total land for potato production in the country. Having witnessed a huge 500% increase in potato production from 20,047 t in 2004 to 100,700 t in 2012, the Mongolian Ministry of Agriculture is crediting the tuber for having significantly increased sustainable development in the region. CIP’s Xie Kaiyun visited the province for the celebration. To honor the contribution CIP has made to potato production in the province, Xie Kaiyun was awarded a medal from Mr. J. Surenkhorloo, Chief Agronomist of Tuv Province, for outstanding people who have contributed to the development of Tuv.

CIP’s Xie Kaiyun receives an award honoring CIP’s contribution to potato production in the Tuv Province of Mongolia.

Later, Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag visited a seed multiplication plot, showed his appreciation for the Program’s achievements, and confirmed that the government would continue to back MFARD projects. Likewise, CIP will continue to actively support the MPP and MFARD in their role to increase potato production in Mongolia, and help towards improving the livelihoods of rural farmers across the country.