The demand for Irish potatoes is estimated to be over 850,000 MT per annum with urban demand outpacing rural demand. With the increasing urbanisation, changing eating habits by the majority youth and high population growth, chips consumption is set to rise by 50% over the plan period offering the potato industry huge opportunities for enterprise development and economic growth (ASSP 2015/6-2019/20).
NAADS supports the Irish potato development interventions by distributing potato seed of improved varieties with preferred end user characteristics. It also supports farmers, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to engage in organized production, marketing and processing of Irish potatoes.
Irish potato is a food security crop and is mainly grown in the highland areas of Kigezi and Bugisu sub regions. However, other areas have also adopted the growing of irish potatoes. As a result of increased demand especially in the urban areas production has been intensified in the traditional zones and is spreading into central Uganda and other areas in Ankole, Rwenzori and Sebei sub regions.
Irish potato is both a staple food and a source of income for the farmers. 60% of the crop is produced in the highlands of South Western Uganda in the districts of Kabale and Kisoro. Production is estimated between 800,000 to 1,000,000 metric tonnes per annum.
Irish production areas in Uganda
Irish potatoes are mainly grown in Kabale and Kapchorwa. In the central region, they are casually grown on the hills around Mubende and Mityana.
Comparatively, while the land in Kabale is hilly, it is not rocky. However, the land in Mubende were these potatoes are grown is quite stony, but not entirely rocky.
Some of the areas in Mubende include Kisita hill, near Kisita gold mines and the so called 99 hills that stretch to as far as Kabamba. According to researchers, Irish potatoes grow better in well-drained soils that do not flood.
However, some types can also grow in moderately ‘stony’ conditions like the case is in Mubende. But the main factor is that the soils must be loam and well drained and there should not be rocks, but some stones.
Varieties of Irish potatoes
The farmers have access to a wide range of varieties both local and improved. The most common improved varieties include the following:
Current common varieties include Rwangume, Kinigi, Nakapot 5, Kachwe 1, Rutuku, and the recently released new varieties by the National Agriculture Research Organisation NARO 1, 2, and 3.
Irish potatoes are an everyday food, especially for urban dwellers. They are consumed as steamed food, as fried chips or as crisps. In most production areas, a sack of 100kg goes for sh100,000, however, in urban areas, such as Kampala, the same sack costs over sh250,000.
Overall, a farmer needs at least sh2m to set up an acre of Irish potatoes, minus the cost of land. By three months, they are ready for harvesting. In Uganda, average yields per acre are 150 bags or 15 tonnes. This gives an average farm gate price-earnings of sh15m.
- Choose land with well drained sandy loamy soils.
- Clear the bush and plough the land to soften it. The average cost of preparing an acre is sh450,000-including digging the ridges.
- It is important for farmers to know the type of soil they have, in order to have the right seed for it. For example, testing the soil before planting, knowing the seed that grows in that area better are some of the things that farmers should look out for to avoid losses. Soil testing costs between sh30,000 and sh50,000 per sample. An acre requires at least three to four samples.
- Dig for the second time after two weeks and make ridges.
Note that adequate tilling and drainage are essential, so as to increase the oxygen supply in the soil, which is a vital ingredient for Irish potato growth. Irish potatoes grow best on raised beds.
This can be done in two ways; during initial land preparation or immediately after planting. Adoption of raised beds leads to improvements in soil moisture, temperature, adequate aeration and drainage.
- Avoid planting in water-logged areas, especially since this will lead to the seeds rotting.
Challenges facing Irish potato production
The following are the challenges being faced by the farmers;
- Farmers lack of understanding of market opportunities.
- Lack of forum to explore new trading opportunities and marketing channels.
- Lack of standards that attract more commercial farming.
- There is over supply during the season
- The crop is very perishable
- The traders tend to exploit the farmer
- Lack of storage facilities to extend the shelf life of the potato.
- Farmers do not use clean seed.
- Farmers do not capital to buy inputs
- Farmers are also faced with transportation challenges as most farms are not near the roads.