Business / News
Tuesday, 07 Mar 2017 13:33 EAT
Potatoes grown from Dutch seeds will yield 2 to 4 times bigger harvests for small-scale, poor farmers in East Africa than potatoes grown using local seed potatoes, a Dutch firm says. The findings are the result of initial tests using experimental varieties grown from potato seeds by Wageningen-based agro-tech company Solynta in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The seeds may prove to be an effective means to provide not only the growing population of Africa, but also those of India, Bangladesh, and China with more and better food and contribute to reducing hunger. For several years now, Solynta says it has been working on breeding potatoes grown from the actual seeds of potato plants.
The method allows one to develop new varieties of potatoes faster, varieties that are better able to withstand potato blights, in turn making the use of pesticides obsolete. These varieties produce increased yield and are easier to transport, because only 25 grams of seed can be used to sow the same number of new potatoes as 2,500 kg of seed potatoes, the firm says in a press statement.
Solynta was named a National Icon in 2014, and given a 2.5 million euro grant by EU programme Horizon 2020, because of its importance to the global food supply. Solynta expects that they will be able to bring the first marketable potato varieties to the market in 2021. “But really, we can’t afford to wait that long, because 30,000 people die of hunger and malnutrition every day,” says general director Hein Kruyt.
“The test in Congo has shown us that Solynta’s True Potato Seeds can contribute to solving a serious problem, including in other countries where hunger is an issue,” he said, adding, "That is why Solynta is looking for partners and support to be able to supply potato seed sooner to developing countries and other countries where the farmers are looking to increase yield.''
In an experiment, Solynta sent an envelope containing the seeds of ten experimental potato varieties to Nioka in Congo, a representative location for overall potato cultivation in the highlands of East Africa and the results were good. After rice, corn, and wheat, potatoes are the most cultivated staple food in the world, and they are grown on all continents.
The millions of small-scale farmers in Africa who grow potatoes to provide themselves with sustenance buy their seed potatoes on the local market. The average yield per hectare ranges from 5 tonnes of potatoes per hectare in Uganda to 15 tonnes in Kenya. The yield depends on the quality of the seed potatoes.
These are often poor quality, because the propagation, storage, and distribution of seed potatoes leave something to be desired. The farmers save part of their harvest to sow in the coming year, which further diminishes the quality of the crop.