Washed potatoes offer excellent opportunities

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Windhoek

According to figures presented by Gilbert Mulonda, market promotion and advisory manager of the Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA), potato production on the local market grew from about 536 tonnes in 2010 to 11 239 tonnes in 2014.

However, Namibia still imported 18 977 tonnes in 2014, which points to an excellent opportunity for local production, especially for washed potatoes. Washed potatoes constitute more than 95% of the formal potato market demand in Namibia, which are mainly imported due to the unavailability of washing facilities in Namibia.

The Special Potato and Onion Agreement between POPA and the National Association of Traders in Fresh Produce (NATFP) plays an important role in stimulating local potato production. According to this agreement, AMTA does not issue import permits to traders when local production covers demand on a national level. During periods when production exceeds local demand, producers can also export potatoes and onions.

This information was shared by members during the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Potato and Onion Producers Association (POPA) in Tsumeb recently. At the meeting, horticulture producer Vico Blume was elected chairperson, Michael Iyambo, also horticulture producer and chairperson of the National Horticulture Task Team, was elected vice chairperson, while Gero Hirsch, a horticulture producer and coordinator for good agricultural practices with Global G.A.P., was elected treasurer.

POPA represents Namibian potato and onion producers. The association’s mission is to stimulate, protect and promote potato and onion production and marketing in Namibia by delivering unique, healthy, quality products and planned production that ensures an on-time delivery system and customer satisfaction.

Blume said he looks forward to assisting POPA to develop the potato and onion sector in Namibia. The AGM and associated events focused on potato cultivation and noted that local horticultural production of potatoes has shown sustained growth year-on-year.

Potatoes and onions are regulated by the Namibian Market Share Promotion (MSP) initiative as a special controlled product, said Manjo Krige of the Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB). According to the MSP, all importers of fruit and vegetables must currently buy 44% of their produce from Namibian producers before they receive import permits from AMTA, that acts as NAB’s agent.

Elaborating on opportunities at the POPA AGM, guest speaker Dr Andre Jooste, an agricultural economist and CEO of Potato SA, said high local demand is driven by familiarity with potatoes as part of the range of Namibian staple foods.

He added that potatoes have a high nutritional value in terms of vitamins and fibre, in addition to the energy provided by carbohydrates. He cited Potato SA’s figure of 354 kilojoules of energy proved by 100 grams of potato. This, he said, makes it an efficient food, with a relatively low price to sustain an adult.

On the suitability of potatoes for Namibia’s semi-arid and arid climate, Jooste said potatoes have a far lower water requirement than crops, such as wheat and maize. However, he added that the temperature range for potato growth dictates seasonality, as potatoes will only grow if the air temperature is below 28 degrees Celsius, and will not survive frost.

Jooste said that potato production is best suited for established commercial farming operations, as it requires high input costs and a large growing area to achieve economies of scale. He also mentioned that a pack house to wash, grade and package potatoes is required to add further value to the crop. Namibia currently markets and exports unwashed potatoes.

He also noted an increased requirement for land, as potato crops have to be rotated to avoid disease, as well as the requirement of skilled management to prevent pest outbreaks.

Vico Blume was optimistic that in the light of Namibia’s track record of growth in terms of potato and onion production, there is potential for increased horticulture production. He concluded by encouraging all farmers who want to explore the potential to generate seasonal income from potatoes to approach POPA to familiarise themselves with the field.

For more information interested parties can contact vblume@iway.na or NatHortMan@nammic.com.na

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