An initiative promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to cultivate potatoes in the lowlands for household consumption during the cold season is showing encouraging progress.
According to Ms. Ghenet Ghebrezgabhier, Head of the seed unit at the MoA, it has technically been extremely difficult to cultivate potatoes in the lowlands. However, since November 2021, the MoA has been conducting a pilot project for potato production in the Gash Barka, the Northern Red Sea, and the Southern Red Sea regions. The pilot area extends to around 47 hectares of land.
Ms. Ghenet explained that thus far, an average of 242 quintals per hectare has been harvested in the Gash Barka region, and 163 quintals per hectare in the Southern Red Sea region.
According to reports from the Agricultural Extension Department, the initiative includes 109 beneficiaries, the vast majority of whom have registered satisfactory results. Overall, the project demonstrates that potato cultivation has the potential to be scaled up and successful in most lowland areas of the country.
Success stories from pilot areas
Gash Barka Zone
Mr. Fitwi Ghebreselassie is a farmer who lives in Fesko administrative area. He expressed that it was the first time he saw potatoes being cultivated in the area. “We never thought of cultivating potatoes in this area. We have traditionally considered potato as a highland crop. However, thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture, we have planted 120 quintals of potato seed over six hectares, and we have witnessed that it is very possible to grow potatoes during the cold season.”
Speaking about the project’s success, Mr. Fitwi said, “Since it was our first experience, we encountered some minor challenges, such as pests. However, experts from the Ministry and the regional office played an important role in the whole production cycle. In addition to the provision of seeds and pesticide, continuous follow up was offered by the Ministry’s experts. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all.”
Finally, he affirmed that he would continue to grow potatoes and urged others in the region to join this important initiative to boost potato production in Gash Barka.
Mr. Semere Kifleyesus, member of the Gash-setit Agro-industry, is also a resident of Alebu, Adi-Omer area. They planted 4 hectares of land with potato seeds provided by the Ministry. He informed this newsletter that it was a noble idea that the Ministry took the initiative to try growing potato during the cold season. He asserted, “From now on, potatoes will be produced in Eritrea all year round. Currently, we are selling potatoes at 11 Nakfa per kilo.”
He, finally, acknowledged the effort of the Ministry to increase production of potato in general, and its support and continuous follow ups.
Mr. Biniam Feseha is crop production expert in Shambuko Sub-zone. He said that about half hectare of land was dedicated to potato production, and that he was expecting to harvest approximately 100-125 quintals.
“Since we have been receiving potatoes from the highland markets, we believe this important initiative will play a great role in satisfying the demand for potatoes in our sub-zone during this season,” he explained.
Mr. Biniam also touched upon the possible future expansion of the project, declaring, “If the Ministry can provide us with adequate potato seeds during the coming cold season, we will easily mobilize more farmers to join the initiative. We have already received many requests [to join] from farmers who were not participants during the first round of trials.”
Mr. Okbamichael Solomon is a farmer in Dige Sub-zone, Adi- Ibrahim area. He commented, “Since I was slightly hesitant that potatoes could be grown here, I dedicated only a quarter of a hectare of land for trial. However, I am now quite convinced that it is possible to grow potatoes here, even though the size may be a bit smaller than in the highlands. If we follow all recommended practices, I believe our harvest will be much greater next time.”
He also expressed his appreciation to the experts from the MoA for their technical support, provision of resources, and various recommendations.
Mr. Mulugieta Hagos is Head of the horticulture unit in Gash Barka. He explained that around 40 hectares of land across nine sub-zones have been dedicated for potato cultivation, with 93 farmers participating in the initiative.
“Even though growing potatoes in Gash Barka has technically been thought unviable due to the climate, the Ministry of Agriculture has shown that it is possible during the cold season. We are now registering satisfactory outcomes and we expect to harvest even more in the coming season,” he concluded to say, “I encourage farmers in the region to join this initiative as it offers many benefits.”
Finally, Mr. Mulugieta highlighted that, from now on, Gash-barka zone has witnessed that it has a vast area to produce table potato during cold season.
Southern Red Sea Region
Ali Kahla is a farmer residing in Afambo. Among the beneficiaries of the pilot potato cultivation project, he stated, “Even though it is my first experience, my potato field is in good condition. I expect a reasonable harvest.” He went on to say, “We will cultivate more in the coming season because we have gained adequate experience from this first trial.”
Marian Ali Yosuf, a resident in Harsile area, is one of the
first consumers of the potatoes produced in her area. She explained that the quality of the potatoes is very good, and that she hopes the initiative will be able to meet the growing local demands.
Mr. Mohammed Abdulrahman is Head of the crop production division in the Southern Red Sea region. According to him, 20 farmers have participated in the pilot project, working on 7 hectares of land in three sub-zones (Assab, Central Denkalia, and Southern Denkalia).
Most of the potato fields have been harvested, and considering that it is only the first trial, the outcomes have been quite encouraging.
“At first, many of the farmers were reluctant to farm potatoes, but with a little encouragement they joined the initiative. We provided them with potato seeds and other inputs, as well as regular support. After seeing the positive outcomes, many farmers that were not part of the initiative have been requesting to join future rounds,” Mr. Mohammed noted.
It is worth recalling that since potatoes are not grown in the highlands from November to March, it is a great opportunity for farmers in the lowlands to farm potatoes and meet the supply gap.