The Highlands of East Africa include Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. It is a tropical area where approximately 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Helping small farmers improve their yield and thereby their livelihood is key because the population increases faster than local food production.
One major problem is that few of the local farmers have access to clean and healthy seed. ‘For many crops, the majority of small farmers rely on planting leftovers from the previous harvest’, says Dr. Ian Barker, Head of Agricultural Partnerships at Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. ‘Maybe less than 1% uses quality seed. The seeds could be 20 to 30 years old. This results in an average potato yield of 5,3 – 8,9 tons a hectare. It should be at least 25 tons. And production is actually declining. So we have a lot of people and an important crop. What are we going to do about this?’
Syngenta is a Swiss foundation that globally works with partners to increase incomes of small farmers in developing countries through innovation and sustainable agriculture. One of their projects is all about improving access to quality seeds of modern varieties. This project, called Seeds2B, concerns all crops but the potato has priority.
“Potatoes are sure to deliver food security and cash”
Ian Barker explains: ‘In the East African Highlands potato is the second food crop after maize, but it contains more significant nutritious values. Also it is consistent, has a short cycle and is drought resistant. So if we can help these small farmers achieve better yields, potatoes are sure to deliver food security and cash.
Looking for partners in potato variety innovation, particularly for the fast growing processing sector, you inevitably look to Europe including the Netherlands. It is not just about the seed. In working together we get access to the knowledge of growers and an infrastructure that has been existing for over a hundred years!’
New economic opportunities
‘We formed a strong partnership with HZPC’, Ian Barker states. ‘They have a strong variety portfolio and have shown a commitment to develop the market in tropical environments.’ Not all is rosy, because finding the right varieties proved to be a challenge. Ian Barker continues: ‘During the first season we focussed to much on yield an quality, not on deceasing and dormancy. Because of the tropical climate, the Highlands have short days and sometimes two seasons a year. The disease pressure is high. We now selected nine varieties that perform much better than anything else in the region. Also we found good local partners to produce the seeds and to host breeders and experts of HZPC who help evaluate the varieties. This will give these small farmers new economic opportunities.’
We selected varieties
much better than
When asked about the future Ian Barker says: ‘Even if we find good varieties and partners, those are fragments of the value chain. The next five years will be about raising awareness, accessing the whole area, working with the sector to improve distribution, storage and marketing. It will take time. And I am pleased that a leading Dutch company like HZPC is committed to take on the challenge. I am looking forward to work together in getting it done.’
HZPC & Syngenta
The demand for good certified potato seeds is growing. This is because farmers have realized the importance of using certified potato seeds in their yields, which increases by 60% compared to the local not certified potato seeds. But also the fact that certified potato seeds are free from viruses, bacterial wilt and other diseases gives a big advantage. The big challenge for seed potato companies is having efficient distribution channels organized to get their certified seed potatoes shipped as high quality also delivered as high quality in the local small villages in the inlands of the countries, realizing that temperatures are high and the availability of refrigerated transport isn’t available. But as the expression is saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.