Breaking the Belief: Climate Smart Potato improvement, production and Future prospects in Ethiopia

 

A stakeholders’ consultative workshop organized by Haramaya University in collaboration with Dry lands Coordination Group (DCG) was held in campus from December 30-31, 2016. The workshop was entitled ‘Potato Improvement, Production and Future Prospects in the Face of Climate Change in Ethiopia’.

As potato is the third important food in the world next to wheat and rice, and it should be given the attention it deserves in variety improvement and production. Contrary to scientific belief, farmers in marginal and venerable areas (midland, lowland) have been striving to domesticate and expand production of the crop because of its food security and income generating potential to smallholder farmers.

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Despite government investment on potato research in the last 44 years, the nationally released potato varieties and local cultivars are less productive in the mid and low lands of the country, where there are frequent moisture and heat stresses. Therefore, developing potato varieties tolerant to drought and heat would enable not only to sustainably produce the crop in the highlands but also to expand its agro-ecology to the lowlands of the country. As a climate adaptation strategy, this would make the crop resilient to moisture stress and heat for improved yield to attain targeted food requirements.

A total of six speakers (senior researchers, academicians and scientists) addressed 12 different topics on potato improvement in the face of climate change at the workshop. The themes of the speakers were: DCG activities and achievements at HU, potato research improvement group of respective institutions, genetic gain of potato tuber yield, evaluation of climate resilient potato genotypes, agronomic research programme, participatory breeding programme with farmers, farmers perception view, disease and pest in the face of climate change, future national potato research strategies to address drought and heat prone areas, etc.

The participants of the workshops were representatives from universities, research centers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), farmers’ unions, zone and woreda agricultural offices, seed producers’ cooperatives and development agents.

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The two-day event saw a plenary presentation and reflection on day one and field excursion on day two. During the discussion sessions, participants raised questions and comments pertinent to potato improvement and production in Ethiopia in general and eastern part in particular. The session went beyond seed sector and elaborations were made on the legal issues of genetic land race and species. ‘Lack of institutional innovation’ on genetic resources and species was identified as challenge for seed sector innovation during this session.

Another point made in the presentation was that most improved varieties are not on the hands of farmers. One reason for this is, according to the researchers, while breeders are working to improve the yield of potato varieties, farmers, on the other hand, look for other features in a variety such as cooking time, test, shelf life, short maturity, short dormancy duration, resistance to skinning and bruising, disease resistance, drought tolerance and texture when cooked. They suggested it would be beneficiary to researchers and farmers to do a participatory variety selection, whereby the farmers would be involved from the beginning before a variety is released.

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The red spider mite (two-spotted spider mite) outbreak that was encountered last year was taken as a good learning opportunity for farmers and extension workers to be very cautious when bringing seed from institutions/sources. Insects/mites that were not threatening the seed source areas might turn to be serious in a different agro-ecology. The researchers said the identification of the outbreak is the first of its kind in the country.

One thing that stunned the audience was the experience where farmers were forced to sell 150kg of potato for a price of 100kg. The market uncertainty has forced farmers to sell more production for less money.

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On day-two, delegates and workshop participants visited the irrigation potato Seed Producers Cooperatives (SPC) site in Haji Faji, Kersa district. Farmers from different woredas (about 80 male and 37 female) and stakeholders which comprises, researchers, university, NGOs, Unions, zone and woreda agriculture and cooperative promotion offices were participated on field day experience sharing visit on potato seed production practices, seed storage, exhibition on different potato varieties and food preparation from potato, Enormous success stories recorded so far by SPC including organizational, financial and record keeping, production and multiplication, and value addition, food preparation and processing etc. were visited.

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Mr. Alemayehu Assefa, HU- ISSD farmers Organization expert facilitated the session. The discussion was chaired deligated from Haramaya University, Fedis woreda Administration office, AfranKallo Farmers Cooperative Union and Watar town administration. Different questions and reflection were conducted after the visit. The participants appreciated the visit as it had helped them to be acquainted with different materials, practices and techniques they did not know before.

Representatives from Haji Faji district raised the issue of market uncertainty they face and the support they need on pesticide from the University. Reflections were given by University representatives.

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