The large Irish potato production in Plateau State, according to PotatoPRO.com, a leading information source for the global potato industry, has made Nigeria the fourth biggest producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, the state is the number one producer of Irish potato in Nigeria with the tuber currently produced in nine of the 17 LGAs of the state.
The Potato Value Chain Support Project of the African Development Bank (AfDB) pegs Plateau as accounting for 90 per cent of the potato production in the country, with countries such as Ghana, Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon importing large supplies from Nigeria.
However, despite being the number one producer of the crop in the country, the price of potato this year is the highest in the last two decades in the state, with a 50kg bag selling for between N45,000 and N50,000. Many buyers say the current price of potato is beyond their reach, with others saying they have stopped eating it completely until the price drops to an affordable level.
Abdullahi Suleiman, a Jos resident, said he loved eating Irish potato but that the hike in its price had forced him to replace it with sweet potato which was far cheaper.
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Suleiman said, “Honestly, it is not easy for me to buy Irish potato because it is too expensive. This is something that was recently sold between N20,000 and N25 000, but it is now sold between N45,000 and N50,000. I can’t buy Irish potato for now. We are looking for cheaper foods like sweet potato which is sold at N6,000 per bag to sustain our lives.”
Joy Marcus, another Jos resident, who came to the market to buy Irish potato but couldn’t afford it, said, “ I came to enquire about the price of a bag of the potato, but what they told me is different from what I was expecting. They said a bag is between N45,000 and N50,000. I can’t afford it. I have already called the person that sent me and told him about the price. I have to go back home.”
AFAN gives reasons
The All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in the state said lots of factors contributed to the scarcity and hike in the price of potato, noting that excessive rainfall, late blight and lack of adherence to good agricultural practices affected yield during this rainy season thereby hindering the mass production of the crop.
John Chindap Wuyep, state Chairman of AFAN, said millions of naira were lost in this year’s potato farming but that a lot of lessons had been learned from the challenges encountered.
He said, “The issue of the price of potato is as a result of climate change, excessive rainfall this year and potato blight, which was very severe. Almost 90 per cent of what was produced during the rainy season was affected by the late blight.
“Most of the farmers are now in the field so that they can try the dry season because the climate change this year made the rain very excessive that all what the farmers produced became waste. But I believe in the next few months, you will see potato coming from dry season farming.”
Asked if the demand of potato was not part of the price hike, the chairman said, “Even during the harvest season, the price was still high. The demand is there really, but it is not available. About 95 per cent of the farmers suffered this year.
“During rainy season, we have more seedlings. But climate change has affected even the seedlings. So, those who are for the dry season now, getting the seedlings is very difficult and imported ones are not coming as usual because of the exchange rate of the naira. But we are going to overcome it. Potato blight is a global issue. It is not only Plateau. But Plateau became peculiar because of our climate.”
Wuyep added that prices of farm inputs like pesticides and fertilisers were also factors that affected the mass production of potato.
He said, “Farmers said the hike in the prices of the inputs prevented them from engaging or expanding the cultivation of potato.”
‘What we are doing to overcome challenges’
Mr Wuyep said a lot needed to be done to boost the production of the crop, especially now that farmers were knowledgeable about the difficulties they went through.
He said, “Sometimes, we the farmers, we don’t follow the best agricultural practices, particularly in the application of pesticides to enable you to prevent unforeseen circumstances of diseases. Those who followed them suffered minimal losses. We believe that so many people have learned a lesson. Many even lost their lives because of the trauma. This climate change, we have to adapt to it by adopting modern and best agricultural practices.
“With the climate change here on the Plateau, we want the government to provide farmers with small dams for them to farm all year round. You can’t farm for only three months and you go and rest. If all these are there, the infrastructure: dams, roads and concussive markets and conditioning like the storage facilities, I believe everything would be okay. The excessive rain made the blight worse.
We lost millions of naira to blight – Farmers
Potato farmers in the state continue to count their losses; describing the situation as terrible.
Monday Albert, a potato farmer, said, “I invested N600,000 this year but was only able to recover N80,000. I was expecting a profit but I lost my capital. I don’t even know how to start.
“I have a customer who stored potatoes worth N6m in my shop but we lost almost everything to the strange disease. He was only able to recover N400,000.
“So, the potato must be expensive because it is not much and those who were lucky to harvest theirs had possibly spent a lot during cultivation. They applied fertilisers and pesticides which are very expensive. All your expenses must be put together while selling the potato, and that is why it is very expensive in the market. As a potato farmer, I can’t eat it. I would rather sell it and buy cheaper food with the money.”
Price hike affecting us – Potato dealer
Hajiya Sabuwa, a potato dealer in Jos, said the hike in the price of the potato was affecting their sales because this year potato was costly and scarce, adding that only few people who were buoyant could afford to buy in the market as a bag was sold for N50,000.
She said, “This year there is low yield in potato cultivation. This has also contributed to the high cost. It is not everyone that can afford and as such, only few people come for potato and that has affected our income.”