Despite the growing demand for Irish Potato locally and its potential at the international market, Nigeria is yet to tap into this opportunity, as the country struggles to fill the huge supply deficit.
Irish potatoes are shrubby perennials with edible tubers, grown as cool-weather annuals in rows, raised beds, or containers. The starchy tubers quickly became one of the world’s most important and nutritious foods, behind only corn, wheat and rice.
The product comes in different varieties, colours and shapes and has multitudinous uses aside from the normal nutritious value. Different countries of the world have institutionalised their cultivation for both export and local consumption.
It contains two per cent protein and 18 per cent starch. It is an inexpensive source of carbohydrates and, when prepared properly, provide good amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Its fibers help to lower blood cholesterol levels; it has a great source of potassium, which also plays an important role in lowering blood pressure The vitamin B6 in the product is very useful in maintaining brain and nervous system health. It also helps in the prevention of common cold and scurvy.
Irish Potato is a cool-season crop, which grows best in early spring and late fall when the days are warm and the nights are cool. However, the tops of the plant cannot withstand frost.
It has many varieties with different skin colours — red flesh, white flesh and yellow flesh. The most common ones are the red and the white skin, but the red variety stays longer than the white. Irish is a staple food classified under vegetable.
In recent years, Irish Potato has witnessed a growing demand. This comes mainly from consumers who have come to realise its health benefits. Not only that, new ways of preparing this tuber crop has made it more attractive.
Irish Potatoes are consumed in a variety of ways. Some of these include fried chips, porridge, baked, mashed potatoes, as well as roasted potato among others.
But despite the benefits and potential of this crop, the country’s production level is still minimal.
It is unfortunate that despite the country’s enormous land surface used for crop production, Nigeria ranks fourth among the continent’s leading Irish potato producing countries. Egypt is Africa’s leading Irish potato producer with 5,029,022 tonnes yearly production, followed by Algeria with 4,782,690 tonnes a year, while South Africa ranks third with 2,150,844 tonnes a year.
China is the largest potato producer in the world with 99,122,420 tonnes of production volume per year. India comes second with 43,770,000 tonnes yearly production. Russian Federation ranks third with 31,107,797 tonnes yearly production.
In Nigeria, Plateau State is the major producers of Irish potatoes. Other places with high altitudes are Mambilla Plateau, Taraba State and Obudu, Cross River State. Irish potato can grow well during harmattan when the North is generating cold. Places like Zaria, Kaduna State, Borno and some part of Nsukka in Enugu State.
Despite the progress made in potato development in Nigeria, there are still some constraints, which limit its production, processing and marketing. These include the inadequate supply of good quality seeds, inadequate storage facilities, poor diseases, and pests’ management, which affects the yield, and value addition to the potato crop.
According to a produce exporter, Jeremiah Ogu, who revealed that there is a huge deficit in the supply of the produce, he said there is a need for government to support farmers, not only to meet domestic demands but also to serve as a foreign exchange earner for the country.
“We can only maximise the potential of this crop when people begin to cultivate the crop in large quantity. High-profit turnover is an incentive you do not want to ignore. Plateau State is a major producer of this crop in Nigeria but it is mostly cultivated through manual labour. Government can assist farmers to embark on mechanised farming to aid commercial production.”
It was learnt that the potato production from Plateau State, according to PotatoPRO.com, a leading information source for the global potato industry, contributed to the current status of the country in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the country is lagging behind.
Umar Abbas, Chairman of, Irish potato sellers association in Kaduna, who has been selling the product for over 25 years at Bakin Dogo market in Kaduna State, said one of the challenges faced by traders is the perishable nature of the produce. “Whoever is into the business is aware of its perishable nature. Sometimes, we buy in large quantity only for it to get spoilt at the end and we have to dispose of them. We usually encounter this loss often.
“The major support these businessmen require is finance because everything about business involves finance. Post-harvest management with selling perishable goods and price instability of Irish potatoes is also a challenge.”
According to a farmer, who has been cultivating the crop for over 20 years in Jos, John Kpong, the problem of inadequate dams and road networks, coupled with diseases such as blight and bacterial wilt, as well as poor seedlings are major factors reducing production yield in the country.
He added that low yield, poor seedlings, high cost of fertilizer and other farming inputs have also continued to pose a major setback in the production of sufficient potatoes for the nation and for export.
“We have the potential of producing enough for local consumption. It will also be our joy to sell our products to other countries, but some of the challenges facing us must be tackled headlong. The fact remains that we need government’s support to maximize the profit potential of this crop for local use and export.”
Few months ago, the Federal Government commenced capacity building for farmers in some of the Irish potato producing states.
The Director, Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Karima Babangida, said the initiative was in the pursuit of food security and nutrition for the country.
He expressed hope that if capacity building is achieved the narratives about farming as a culture will change to farming as a business.
Source: The Guardian