Farmers welcome new deal to boost potato production

The newly signed deal between the International Potato Centre (CIP) and BlackPace Africa Group to advance potato production in Africa, including Rwanda, is a timely intervention that will help improve production, farmers have said.
Farmers in Nyabihu prepare to transport their produce to the market. Potato growers want better varieties. (File)
Farmers in Nyabihu prepare to transport their produce to the market. Potato growers want better varieties. (File)

The newly signed deal between the International Potato Centre (CIP) and BlackPace Africa Group to advance potato production in Africa, including Rwanda, is a timely intervention that will help improve production, farmers have said.

Commenting on the agreement that was signed last week, Jean Damascene Ntawushobora, the president of Irish Potato Farmers’ Union (IABINYA) in Nyabihu District, said farmers still need high yield varieties that are suitable for the different soil types across the country.

“We are planting Irish potato varieties developed by former Agricultural Research Centre while others are imported from neighbouring countries such as Uganda and DR Congo. Therefore, any research and initiatives that focus on improving potato varieties is welcome,” he told The New Times in a telephone interview on Monday.

More about the deal

Last week, the International Potato Centre and BlackPace Africa Group signed a technical and scientific agreement to advance potato production in Africa. This inter-institutional framework collaboration agreement will further support development of both Irish and sweet potatoes in Africa, according to the deal signed in Kigali.

“The objective of this agreement is to establish the basis for a technical and scientific collaboration between CIP and BlackPace Africa,” said Dr Hugo Campos, CIP director for research. It will enable the management and implementation of capacity building activities by both institutions through the exchange of information and knowledge, he added.

“We are excited at this partnership with BlackPace Africa. Together, we look forward to improving the livelihoods of 136,000 smallholder households in Rwanda by use of high quality seed of robust, market preferred and biofortified varieties,” Campos said.

He added that the initiative should exploit the crops’ largely untapped potential, creating opportunities along the entire potato value chain.

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BlackPace chief Olusegun. (Courtesy)

Competitive varieties key

Commenting on the development, Evariste Bizimungu, an Irish potato farmer from Western Province, said research is key to increase production. He said one can harvest about 20 tonnes per hectare, adding this could increase significantly with better varieties and extension services.

“We need more processing plants to add value to potatoes, which would also ensure increased farmer benefit,” he said, adding that farmers are currently being paid Rwf140 per kilogramme.

To emphasise the importance of high quality and competitive seed, Ntawushobora cited Kinigi variety, saying is currently doing well in the market because “it is liked by consumers as well as processing plants compared to others.”

He explained that while a kilogramme of the Kinigi variety costs Rwf300, others are at Rw180 per kilo because consumers do not like them. Kinigi variety is also liked by farmers because it gives higher yields compared to the other varieties.

Invest in research and devt

According to the executive chair of BlackPace Africa, Paul Andrew Olusegun, Africa should aim for the best by investing in research and development as well as tap the best brains on the continent and globally “to achieve superior returns and develop the potato products Africans deserve”.

“We should also collaborate with relevant institutions such as CIP to improve the quality of our potatoes and processing capacity,” Olusegun said.

He noted that the two organisations will develop joint research on technical, economic and social aspects of development of new varieties, improved seed systems, processing, markets development.

The project will also promote consumption of potato and sweet potato, sustainable intensification of agro-systems, the relationship between climate change, agriculture and sustainable management of natural resources and fragile agro-ecosystems (wetlands), the official said.

BlackPace enters Rwanda

In August, BlackPace Africa Group signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the ministries of Agriculture and Animal Resources, and Trade and Industry to develop the country’s potato value chain.

Under the deal, the firm targets production capacity of 10 million tonnes of potato over a five-year period.

When it starts operations, it will process 80,000 to 100,000 tonnes of frozen French fries (at the Kigali Special Industrial Zone-based plant), potato flakes and crisps (Nyabihu plant) for regional consumption and other export markets in Africa and the Middle East, under the deal.

BlackPace is a Nigeria and Switzerland-based firm that is investing in the agriculture value chains, including Irish potatoes. It also has interests in energy, oil and gas, infrastructure, finance, ICT and real estate, among others.

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