Opportunities In Potato Farming And Processing

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With Just N5,000 And A Piece Of Land You Can Be On Your Way To Financial Success With Potato Production

Nigeria, a country blessed with diverse climatic and soil condition for the production of different agricultural produce, is the leading producer of potato in Sub-Saharan Africa, producing about 3,460,000 metric tons of sweet potatoes – a starchy, tuberous crop, which refer to the plant itself as well as the edible tuber, annually.

Sweet potato is not just an established staple crop, but an important source of raw materials for the manufacture of wide range of industrial products, such as starch, liquid glucose, and ethanol, and can also be used as a substitute for wheat flour in bread.

But it has been observed that most Nigerians don’t know of the many business opportunities in both potato farming and processing and so are not participating in it, thereby missing out on the chance improving their income significantly and even becoming wealthy with potato.

To help bring the awareness of the immense money making opportunities in potato farming and processing to our esteemed readers, SuccessDigest this week met with a seasoned potato farmer, Mr. Tope Ogunsona, who shared his experience and valuable knowledge about the crop with our reporter, including its profitability and the fact that with as little as N5,000 and a piece of farmland one can start producing potatoes.

He also emphasizes the fact that the several business opportunities around potato are highly profitable with immense markets, which are presently untapped. We bring you his views below, do enjoy it!

What Does Potato Farming Involve?

It simply entails that a portion, or an area of land will firstly be cleared, after the clearing, you will have to wait for a down pour of rain before you make ridges or heaps. Another thing to take note of is that potatoes will not do well in a land which is anything other than loamy soil, or a land that is not well cultivated. You can use tractors, like ploughs, harrows, and ridgers to cultivate the potato vines (stems) and parts of the leaves. Note that the seed can’t be planted like yam, even though it is a tuber crop.

So, looking at the size of land it can be planted on, well, it depends on the capacity of the farmer, and to be candid, potatoes can be planted on a small piece of land for either commercial or subsistence farming. Don’t forget that potatoes can only do well when you make heaps or ridges in the Western part of the country, but it might not necessarily be of need in the Eastern part.

Can Potatoes Be Planted And Do Well In Every Part Of The Country?

You know potatoes are categorized as tuber crop and can be cultivated, and will do well in the Eastern, Southern, and the middle belt regions of the country. It will not do well in a hot climate like the desert with hot soil condition, and where rainfall is not sufficient. Well, we might still people who will plant it in the North part of the country, but it might not do as well as those in other regions.

What Are The Planting Requirements?

One of the things you need as a new entrant who can’t afford getting tractors to plough, harrow or ridge the land – you may not even have access to large piece of land – is getting a cutlass to clear the land area, or better still, you can clear the area by burning it.

However, if it is burnt, it shouldn’t be thorough so as not to turn the soil acidic. I mean, after burning and you can see reddish particles, it means the land will not do well; therefore, you will have to mix the soil together.

After burning people use shovel for clearing, and after that you can use a hoe to make ridges. Please know that the way you cultivate potatoes is different from yam. When you are planting potatoes, you can make some furrows like flower beds, and it should be planted within a space of three to five centimeters (3-5 centimeters).

Here is the planting process:

1. Land Clearing: When you make your land available, you have to get the bush cleared. Depending on the size of the land, you will spend about ₦2,000 to clear one plot of land (100ft x 50ft).

2. Seed/Stem: One funny thing is that you can easily plant potato using the stem. You can make the stem you use for the planting season by yourself by planting the seeds sometime in March of the planting year. Depending on the size of the land, take for instance, one plot, you can plant only five seeds and allow them to germinate. When they germinate, they can be used to plant the whole plot for the season. You can start cutting the stem around June/July for proper cultivation. The five seeds won’t cost more than ₦100.

3. Making Heaps: In places like Benue State, Enugu State, and Anambra State, farm workers there charge per heap. They make one heap for N5 – N10. If can get about 300 heaps in a plot, that will cost at most (N10 x 300 = N3,000).

4. Planting the Stems: You will plant the stems you raised earlier in March of the planting year. Cut off the stems where you raised them and fold up each stem in circular form. Make the bulbs to face up while where the root comes from should be buried in the soil. Do not fully cover the plant at this initial stage. You can also plant another crop like maize or guinea corn besides it.

5. Weeding/Adding Manure: You only weed potato once you find the weeds have very much sprouted out. You can add any manure of your choice, whether natural or artificial. In most cases, you wouldn’t need to apply manure if the land is fertile or is not in constant use. It will still give good yield, I advice that you locate places with fertile lands to plant potato. Most of such places are in rural areas where the cost of living is low. This helps you to save money.

6. Harvesting: Harvesting should be around August/September. It takes only three months for potato to mature.

7. Storage/Sales: After harvesting, you can store them for some time. It’s not advisable to keep potatoes for a long time because the storage is difficult to achieve. But you can open the ground under a good shade, cool and water-free area and put the potatoes there. Do not cover with sand; rather cover them with grasses if you must cover them. The market is there waiting for you, so you don’t need to waste the time storing them.

Now, let’s check the cost of cultivating a plot of land.

Clearing …………..… ₦2,000
Seed……………..…. ₦100
Making heaps….….…₦3,000
Total ……….……….₦5,100

If everything works out well, you are going to get about five large bags of potatoes from a plot of land.

How Many Species Of Potatoes Do We Have/Which Is The Best?

There are different species, but majorly we have the Sweet (white) and Irish (small) Potatoes. If I must say this, I prefer the Irish potato, which is highly demanded in the Western world because of its health benefits, to the Sweet one, which is like yam. Even pricewise, a basket of Irish potatoes is higher in price from that of Sweet potatoes.

Can The Two Species Be Grown In Nigeria?

Well, the two species can be grown here in the country, the White one can be grown in virtually every part of the country, while the Irish selects parts where it is grown. That is to say that the Irish potato can most especially be grown in Jos, Plateau State, where the atmosphere is cool. So, it is advisable to plant the White (sweet) potato because it is selective of planting area. In addition, sweet potatoes are also of two types. Though they look alike, one is smaller than the other and has a rough layer, irrespective of where it is planted, while the other one is always as big as yam with a smooth layer. Also, after harvest, you easily get the bigger ones in number than the ones with rough layers.

What Amount Of Rainfall Is Suitable To Potatoes?

If you care to know, potato is somehow different from tomato, as tomato doesn’t need too much rain, unlike potato that needs it. So, that is why you have to make the furrow very well and once there is heavy rain, it will just go straight into the soil, but it will stay at the edges of the furrows. If there is too much of rainfall no plant can withstand it. Cassava and maize, I will admit also need high rainfall as potato, but it must not be too much.

What Farm Size Would You Advice For A New Farmer?

Potato

As a farmer who is just starting the cultivation, 1,000 heaps will be enough at a start. Knowing what capacity a particular piece of land will be able to contain is important – as a farmer you should be able to ascertain the capacity of a certain piece of land in heap wise. As regards this, it is not that you will be counting the heaps, what you will do is just to make your furrow and give it enough space as mentioned above. Then, as you are planting, you will begin to count the numbers of vines you are planting.

I must let you know that by following a simple procedure in the cultivation of potato, you can even get almost all the beds or furrow full of potatoes during harvesting.

Here is the procedure: After three to four weeks of planting, there is need for you to go to the farm with a hoe or shovel to cover the vines with sand – as the vines would have come out. Again, after another two weeks, the vines will begin to come further out and you do the same – the more you cover the vines with sand as they are coming out, the more potatoes you will get. This actually differentiates productive farmers with patience and endurance from other farmers.

How Lucrative Is The Business?

In the first place, it is a business that one can settle for on part time or full time basis. Potato farming business is very lucrative in the sense that the demand is a little bit higher than yam in the market. While potatoes can’t be prepared like pounded yam, it can be processed as potato chips, which yam can’t fit into and can be well packaged than yam. Also, as part of the processing aspect of potato, it can go extra mile as it can be canned in a tin.

Though, potato might not be a major food commodity in Nigeria which might not be unconnected with the work load involved in the processing of the product, however, if the product can be processed in a hygienic manner and well packaged, it will no doubt find ready buyers. Potato products will have high demand in hotels, homes, restaurants, and fast food outlets.

Potato Distribution Business

The business of distributing potatoes is also lucrative. There is a woman in front of my school who normally buys a sack of potato, which is a little bit bigger than a bag of rice for the sum of N4,500 from farmers and she sells the potatoes as a wholesaler for N6,000 to N7,000. She can sell at prices of N50, N100, N500 or N1,000, depending on the quantity buyers request for. Now, people have made her place a buying point and she prefers to sell to retailers who sell to the final consumers.

What Are The Industrial Uses of Sweet Potatoes?

It has now been determined that sweet potatoes have very diverse uses apart from just consumption. For the past decades, sweet potatoes have mostly been grown for food, both for humans and animals, but with advances in technology, it’s now possible for sweet potatoes to be used in various industrial processes. Here are a few industrial uses of sweet potatoes:

Sweet Potato Bio Fuel: Scientists from Taiwan have devised new and more efficient processes to convert sweet potatoes into bio ethanol. The new method means that sweet potatoes will in the future power a new and cleaner transportation, particularly in the developing countries. The use of sweet potatoes as Biofuel will also slow down global warming caused by the greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. For developing countries, this will be an easier means of building a green transportation industry as sweet potatoes are relatively easier to produce.

Sweet Potato Starch: Ten percent of the sweet potato produce in China is processed into starch often by small scale enterprises using manual or simple mechanized equipment. Chinese farmers, through small investments in equipment and processes have been able to convert millions of tons into starch. The starch is used mainly for noodles, while some are also packed in bags and exported to other countries in South East Asia. The sweet potato starch is also used to feed pigs helping boost China’s livestock production.

Sweet Potato Flour: Sweet potato flour can be used in making biscuits, baking bread and cookies and many other uses in the food industry. In China, sweet potatoes are even used in the making of noodles. There are countless ways to use sweet potatoes in other industrial and non industrial applications. Sweet Potato Flour has many applications in the food industry.

Simple Processes In Canning Potatoes.

You first have to get your potatoes, be it from your farm or the ones you bought. You peel and wash, after which you fry and then can it after some necessary additives have been added to it. Here, it can be preserved for a long period of time, which lands it on the shelf of supermarkets, unlike yams which cannot be canned.

How Many Bags Can You Have In A Particular Potato Farm?

Looking at the profit potential, let’s start from the grassroots level with 200 heaps of potatoes which is always like flower beds. If you are able to manage it well, you can at least get four to five bags therein. Calculating further, let’s say each bag sells for N4,500, that is to say you will be realizing N18,000 just from 200 heaps.

What Is The Return On Investment Like?

Potato

Well, before anyone should go into a business, including farming business, he/she must be sure that what he/she will achieve will be commensurate with the effort and money he/she will be putting in. and that means he/she must first be training on that business so as to know how it works.

Otherwise, the person may run at a loss. You don’t go into potato farming just because you saw people doing it, if you did then you may not be able to plant the potato correctly, which could cause problem.

Another thing that could affect return on investment is the activities of weevils. Potatoes can be affected by weevils and it is also harmful to human. The training you will complete under someone who has been into potato farming will help you to know what to do. Maybe you are to use insecticides, herbicides, germicides or other things, such as adding water with kerosene and some insecticides to spray the potatoes.

If potatoes are affected with weevils, you will begin to notice some white rezones any time you plant the potato vines, which will not do well and is also harmful to human system. Aside this, there are local preservative means to fight this occurrence – after heaping, make sure you remove all objects like sticks which can affect potatoes. Sticks and other hard objects must be well packed away from where you plant potato because potato likes to stand on its own and not to rest on any object – because in the process of resting on objects brings about penetration of weevils.

In a nut shell, if the farmer takes cognizance of the above areas, the return on investment will be high – you just have to know more about potato, as it is a seasonal crop and if you want to indulge in potato farming the way irrigative vegetables are done, it will be expensive. So, it is even preferable to plant during the early rain season – between late March and early April and you harvest it before September. You can also plant during the late rain season in September – this makes its planting periods to be twice a year and the harvest period is between four to five months, and if the land is okay, you may sometimes harvest in three months.

What Is The Startup Capital?

At a start, since you wouldn’t be able to do it by yourself or you may not be chanced, you can call for labourers to clear a small portion of land for N3,000, ridge the area for at least N5,000, after which you get the vines free from someone who has been planting before, unlike yams that you will need to buy the ones to plant.

One rubber-paint full of the vines would be enough to plant the small portion of land, as the leaves can also be planted and it will do well. Now, if you have at least between N15,000 to N20,000 as minimum startup capital, you are good to go. But if you can take up some aspects of preparation yourself to cut cost, you can start with N5,000. In another vein, if you plan to do it on a commercial level, supplying large number of people, you will need like N100,000 as a large producer of potato.

Where Is The Market And How Is It Like?

As a potato producer, it is better for you to look for prospective buyers before you start harvesting. That is how I have been doing – telling buyers before hand and it has been yielding positive results as I have been enjoying referral opportunity. The woman I sell to has linked me up with other buyers who converge at her selling point.

Again, now that we have the processing aspect booming, it is believed that the market will be much bigger. The farmer only needs to do some leg work to inform potential buyers of availability to potatoes. Buyers can come to your farm to buy, but it is preferable that you take it to them because of the price – once they get to the farm they will want to buy at a reduced price, owing to the distance they have traveled to your farm and the stress. But when you take it to them, you will begin to talk about the transportation and others thing to be able to sell at a good price. You may also arrange a meeting place or selling point, not the farm between you and the customer.

As another business opportunity, you can set up a meeting place or selling point that buyers and sellers of potatoes meet to transact their businesses. Even your spouse can take up this aspect of taking the potatoes to the selling point, while you face your business on the farm.

What Are The Problems Confronting Potato Farming?

Major production constraints facing potato farmers are: land fragmentation, lack of improved practices, poor storability, insufficient credit facilities, poor extension services, poor road transportation and high cost of productivity increasing inputs. In addition, the marketing of the crop is dominated by middlemen and all the stakeholders are currently facing diverse challenges.

Most of the farmers are smallholders with low levels of education and poor productivity. Most of them plant potatoes as secondary or minor crop in a mixed cropping system. Another major concern of the producers is poor access to sufficient credit to buy productivity increasing inputs such as insecticides, herbicides, fertilizer, improved seeds, among others. Hence, incidence of pests and diseases is a serious factor limiting potatoes production in Nigeria. Obviously, the problems always cause volatility in the retail prices of potatoes from one season to another.

Potato

What Prompted You To Go Into Potato Farming?

If you care to know, I am also a vegetable farmer alongside my teaching profession. At the initial stage I didn’t want to cultivate it because I preferred to farm vegetables, yam, and cassava, but after I started seeing it with other farmers and also read about it I decided to give it a try thinking that it will not do well, but the trial really convinced me. So, it was what I realized from the test-run planting that prompted me into seriously going into potato farming and I planted ahead of the next season. In a nut shell, it is because of the money I realized, the ones consumed by my family, and also the ones given to people.

Your Advice To New Entrants

It is true that some people, even those who do not have something doing at hand may still be looking at potato farming like a child’s play; they should find access to farming potato and I bet it that their financial lives won’t be the same again. I should also say that it is not compulsory for everybody to go into farming potato; it is possible for some people to be distributors just as explained earlier and easily make money. That is to say, you can make money even more than the farmers.

Moreso, after knowing the business, you can go to the Agricultural Credit Facility Agent under State Government, like FADAMA to apply for financial support, which is available for farmers. You can join them as a member with a view to benefitting from the available financial opportunity.

You can also become a distributor and begin to link yourself to farmers – that when people need potatoes they will call you as a right middle man and you get your returns at the end of the day. You can also arrange to collect commissions from farmers for bringing them buyers.

Again, there are opportunities for potato processors to key into, as potato chips, potato flour, and also canned potato that I earlier mentioned are great business opportunities any one can tap into.