A regional project is seeking to set common potato seed systems between Rwanda and Uganda.
The project, dubbed “African roots and tubers: Strengthening linkages between small actors and buyers,” was announced at the opening of a three-day sub-regional workshop on improving farmers’ access to quality potato seeds in Kigali, yesterday.
The project seeks to improve the livelihoods of small producers engaged in the roots and tubers value chains in seven selected African ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries through the promotion of linkages to domestic and regional markets.
The European Union, through the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, funds the project.
Countries benefiting from the Euro 5 million project are Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Cost, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Rwanda.
In Rwanda and Uganda, the project focuses on strengthening the capacity of stakeholders in the Irish potato sector.
Speaking at the meeting, Attaher Maiga, FAO country representative, said a regional approach is needed for the development of effective potato seed systems to take advantage of the regional business integration.
He cited regular cross border trade in both ware and seed potatoes in East Africa, increased harmonisation of trade rules through the east African Community (EAC) and the Common market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), among the factors which necessitate a regional approach to the development of effective potato seed systems.
“One of the major bottlenecks identified in the development of the sector is the lack of access to quality seed potatoes. We have seen that quality seed is really a big concern as we are talking about Irish potato production,” he said.
“Farmers need knowledge on how to produce even better seeds. This will allow us to make the production more effective and efficient and also to make sure that in the end farmers get more money in the pocket if we strengthen the whole chain.”
Improved variety for food security
Johan Cauwenbergh, the head of cooperation at EU Delegation to Rwanda, said it is important for Rwanda and Uganda to jointly promote the seed systems to ensure the whole potato value chain is improved to be assured of food security.
“The whole chain needs to be developed, to be placed in full operation to have the full capacity after production, from the plant to the table. If your supply is increasing, your produce and revenue can be better. It’s then important to have good quality seeds that are disease-resistant, strong and renewed. That way, you can produce much more on a small field,” he said.
Under Rwanda’s Crop Intensification Programme, Irish potato is one of the six priority crops, besides maize, wheat, rice, beans and cassava, that were chosen to improve food security.
Dr Télesphore Ndabamenye, the head of crop production and food security at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said there are still challenges for farmers to access quality seeds in Rwanda.
“If you see the whole value chain, from the farm to the market, we still face challenges in getting quality seeds that are needed at the market. About 90 per cent of potato seeds are obtained in an informal system where farmers are guided on how to produce seeds themselves, while only 5 per cent of the seeds are obtained through the formal system where seeds are controlled and examined,” he said.
“We plan to train farmers to raise the number of private seed multipliers. RAB produces seeds to be given to seeds multipliers, who are, in turn, expected to provide farmers with enough quality seeds.”
Roots and tubers account for 20 per cent of calories consumed in Africa. According to FAO, the market demand for roots and tubers is expected to continue to grow over the next two decades.