Improving the productivity of tropical potato cultivation

April 16, 2014
Improving the productivity of tropical potato cultivation

Potatoes thrive in tropical highlands. The tubers are healthier than rice, banana or cassava, and can play an important role in food security. Production is, however, often very low due to various diseases and farmers can struggle to generate sufficient added value. This is where Wageningen comes in.

Potato specialist Anton Haverkort travels the world giving advice on how to bring cultivation and marketing to a higher level. "We're often invited by the agriculture counsellor at the Dutch embassy or by NGOs in the country. They diagnose a problem and see that the extensive Dutch potato expertise may point the way to a solution. My colleague Romke Wustman or I then go to the country in question to talk with farmers' associations, governments and agricultural institutes. We also inspect fields, markets and supermarkets. This kind of quick scan, which we do over the course of a week, already gives us a good picture and enables us to indicate possible solutions. Other Wageningen specialists and Dutch companies can subsequently offer a practical helping hand."

Clean reproduction

A recent example is Myanmar, a poor country which is currently recovering from decades of dictatorship. "They have a thriving cultivation there but the potatoes are attacked by bacteria and viruses," Anton explains. "They're trying to solve this using in vitro reproduction. This works great in the lab but contamination still occurs later in the form of propagation to mini tubers. This month we will return to Myanmar with a technical assistant in an attempt to solve this problem." The team have also made recommendations on enhancing added value, for example by using local potatoes in the production of crisps.

Success in Rwanda

Anton then turns to Rwanda, where the potato cultivation received a major boost in the 1980s thanks to international aid. "At the time the yield was six tons per hectare and only 45,000 ha were being farmed. The introduction of new varieties, artificial fertiliser and crop protection has since boosted production to thirteen tons per hectare while the area under cultivation has expanded to 170,000 ha. Potato has become the second staple food in Rwanda after cassava."

The time has come for a second wave of support, says Teddie Muffels, agriculture counsellor in Kigali. "A team of Wageningen experts, policy makers, researchers and businesspeople came here at the end of 2012. The farmers have already implemented some of the ideas and improvements in storage and packaging. As a result of the visit, Dutch seedling companies are now interested in Rwanda." An inspectorate is currently being set up under the auspices of the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) to test new varieties.

Consultancy is often followed by a project with the private sector, such as the NAFTC (Netherlands Agro, Food and Technology Centre), financed with public money. This was the case in India. "This allows the sector in a country to take full advantage of the expertise we have built up in the Netherlands," concludes Anton.

Explore further: Improved selection of seed potatoes gives thirty percent more spuds

Related Stories

Potato may help feed Ethiopia in era of climate change

May 15, 2013

With unpredictable annual rainfall and drought once every five years, climate change presents challenges to feeding Ethiopia. Adapting to a warming world, the potato is becoming a more important crop there – with the potential ...

Is reducing environmental impact in the EU feasible?

January 30, 2014

By 2023 all EU member states must be complying with more stringent guidelines related to Integrated Pest Management (IPM). "The essence of the new guideline is reducing the environmental impact of pesticides," says Piet Boonekamp, ...

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

April 15, 2014

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to send people on a ...

Recommended for you

Scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

December 1, 2015

Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on "off-target" ...

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Which came first—the sponge or the comb jelly?

December 1, 2015

Bristol study reaffirms classical view of early animal evolution. Whether sponges or comb jellies (also known as sea gooseberries) represent the oldest extant animal phylum is of crucial importance to our understanding of ...

Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.