Irish potato farmers have said the crop did not germinate well this year to give the expected yield because many farms suffered attack by the blight disease.
Plateau State is known to be the leading state in Irish potato production in the country, and many framers engage in it alongside other crops. The state is the major supplier to all parts of the country.
The farmers also lamented that at the beginning of the farming season, in April/May this year, a hike in Irish potato seedlings affected their preparations. The price increase was attributed to the general rise in the cost of goods and services across the country.
A bag of Irish potato seedlings, which was bought for N15,000 last year, was sold for N20,000 to N22,000 this year. That affected many farmers and as a result, many could not purchase the seedlings at the beginning of the planting season.
Despite these challenges, however, many of the farmers had hoped for a good yield to recover from the high cost of potato seeds.
But the potatoes didn’t do as they had hoped due to the blight disease attack which destroyed the crop on many farms. Many of the farmers could not even recover what they invested in cultivating the crop, not to talk of making any profit.
Recounting her loss, a farmer in Jos, the Plateau State capital, Mrs Atong James, said she planted about two and a half bags of Irish potatoes at the beginning of the farming season, but now that they have started harvesting, she could hardly realise one bag due to the disease.
Mrs James, who farms in Lamingo area of Jos, said she has harvested over 70 per cent of her crop but was yet to recover up to one bag out of the two and a half bags of seedling she planted.
She explained that normally, whenever she planted two to three bags of Irish potato seedlings, she got up to 12 to 15 bags, but that due to the disease she had suffered a heavy loss.
She said she has stopped harvesting the potatoes because most of them were already rotten in the soil, adding that she has to deploy her energy to other crops like onions, maize, green pepper, cassava, and cabbage, among others.
Mrs James, therefore, raised the alarm that with the current state of Irish potatoes in the farms, seedlings for this year’s irrigation farming as well as next year’s planting season would be scarce.
She said even they were available, they would be very expensive, unless the appropriate authorities quickly intervened to cushion the effect of the unexpected disease attack on the crop.
Another Irish potato farmer, Bitrus Mador, said most of those affected planted their potatoes towards the end of May through July, adding that farmers who planted in April escaped the blight.
He said they learnt that the disease was a result of climate change and that it was mostly spread by the rain. “That is why those who planted in April when the rains were not yet heavy were not much affected,” he said.
He said he planted six bags about a month ago, and that it was a specie that was harvested after two months from the time of planting.
But according to Mador, his potato leaves were already showing signs of the blight disease and he was trying to combat the disease with a fungicide.
He said the problem with their efforts in curtailing the blight was that they didn’t know the appropriate fungicide that would actually tackle the disease, as farmers used any chemicals they hoped would effectively do the work for them.
According to him, all the farmers were doing was trial and error, adding that there was no exact prescription in the application method as some applied thrice in two weeks while others applied only once weekly.
He said they had complained to some of the authorities and they were ready to assist, including by enlightening farmers via radio programmes on how to tackle the problem.
Mador further explained that should the fungicide effectively tackle the blight, he is expecting nothing less than 50 bags from the six bags he planted.
However, he said many farmers have decided not to cultivate potatoes next year because of the loss they suffered this year, unless they are given assurance that the disease will not occur next year.
Confirming the disease outbreak and its impact on farmers, Dayyib Zachariah Adam, the chairman of the farmers’ association in Gangare Ward of Jos, in the state, said many farmers suffered losses due to the disease, with only a few that rose to the occasion and minimised the loss.
He said farmers that suffered the heaviest losses were those in other parts and local government areas of the state, like Bokkos, which is known as the centre of Irish potato cultivation in the state.
He also concurred with Mador who said that heavy rains also contributed to the problem, stressing that farmers should always speak out whenever they faced such challenges as they could get help or advice on how to tackle the problem.