July 23, 2021

Irish potato farming: Why Nigeria ranks behind Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania

Irish potatoes sold for N8000-N12,000/bag last Monday, down from N18,000 the previous week

Irish potatoes are shrubby perennials with edible tubers, grown as cool-weather annuals in rows, raised beds, or containers.
Despite the name, Irish potatoes are native to the South American Andes.

Though introduced to the world by early European explorers last four hundred years, the starchy tubers quickly became one of the world’s most important and nutritious foods, behind only corn, wheat, and rice, information on https://www.diynetwork.com says.

Irish potatoes come in different varieties, colours and shapes and have multitudinous uses aside from their normal nutritious value. Different countries of the world have institutionalized its cultivation for export or local consumption.

China, the world’s leading agricultural hub with about 5,815,140 hectares of Irish potato farm land produces 26.3% of the crop consumed in the entire world. As of 2016, China has 56.2% agricultural land with irregular rainfall – decreasing from the southeast to the northwest.

However, with the use of technology and other modern techniques, China is the largest potato producer in the world with 99,122,420 tonnes production volume per year. India comes second with 43,770,000 tonnes yearly production. Russian Federation ranks third with 31,107,797 tonnes yearly production.

Irish potato farming in Africa

Africa has the world’s second largest population by continent, with 1.216 billion people. About 874 million hectares of Africa’s land is considered suitable for agricultural production. This is about 58.3% of the world’s 1.5 billion ha of land surface used in crop production. 

However, African countries rank low in general agricultural production. South Africa, the continent’s agricultural giant as of 2019 ranks 15th among the world’s largest Agricultural Producing Countries.

South Africa is however ranked 28th among the world’s leading Irish potato producing countries and third in Africa with 2,150,844 tonnes a year. Egypt is Africa’s leading Irish Potato producer with 5,029,022 tonnes annual production, followed by Algeria with 4,782,690 tonnes a year. The two rank at 14 and 15 respectively on the world chart.

Different species of Irish potatoes in a Central Nigerian market

Nigeria, the continent’s leading economy ranks 39th on the world’s Irish potato chart behind Morocco, Tanzania and Kenya. Nigeria as of 2016 has 37.3% arable land, the largest in Africa and 9th largest in the world, with seasonal rainfall and vast water resources. The country however produces a meager 1,246,380 tonnes of Irish potatoes a year, barely enough to feed its over 180 million population.

Potato was introduced to the country in the 19th century by Christian missionaries and is largely cultivated in the central region of the country in Plateau State.

Problems of potato farming in Nigeria

As is in many parts of Africa, soil nutrient depletion is common in Plateau State, largely due to harmful human activities including mining, prolonged use and bush burning among others. This added to pests and diseases, insecurity and lack of capital has greatly limits farmers’ capacity in the central zone of the State where the crop is mostly produced.

Farmers mostly have to rush into early planting with or without rainfall, to guard against pests and diseases that mostly attack crops in summer. After planting, constant application of expensive pesticides and herbicides is needed, to keep the crops healthy.

More spending must also be made on fertilizer and manual labour, while hoping armed assailants spare the crops and/or the farmers till harvest.

After harvest however, bad roads and agricultural infrastructure like storage facilities pose fresh threats. The crops take longer than necessary to get to the markets. Being perishable, farmers are forced to sell at humiliating prices to avoid losses.

Farmers helpless without buyers in Plateau market

The funds realized sometimes hardly cover the spendings on cultivation. But due to poor record keeping, farmers rarely realize their losses.

One’s fall, another’s rise

Perhaps, the market losses by farmers in Nigeria are not entirely a problem. They reduce their capacity to produce more and raise the country’s profile in agricultural production, and ultimately increase poverty.

However, every price crash makes the goods available to consumers at affordable prices, thus reducing scarcity and inflation.
This however only benefits the mostly urban consumers who make up 52% of the Nigerian population as of 2020.

Over the last 50 years, urban population in the country grew substantially from 18.2%, at an increasing annual rate that reached a maximum of 3.19% in 1981 and then decreased to 1.57% in 2020 likely due to the covid-19 pandemic.

The rising population is partly as a result of rural-urban migration, occasioned by increased poverty and underdevelopment in rural communities.

A deliberate effort to encourage farmers, both rural and urban might curb this problem. Nigerian authorities have introduced series of microfinance options to boost agriculture.

Nevertheless, to feed the country’s increasing population and meet Government’s export objective, to diversify the currently oil depending economy, a program that makes agricultural mechanization affordable for rural farmers is more appropriate.