Researchers say they are making significant progress in developing potato seed varieties that respond to the needs of the local market.
This follows the establishment of the International Potato Center, a collaborative project with the government, which was set up to address the challenge of seed varieties resistant to the country’s climatology and limited local varieties.
Dr Sindi Kirimi, the senior scientist and country manager of the ICP told Rwanda Today that the new five varieties of the potato released late last year and another six been released last week, are responding well to market needs.
“Though the potato industry is growing with two processing plants now, we did not have any potato variety which was blended for crisps, but from the new ones, five appear to fit that purpose,” said Kirimi.
The newly released varieties include Jyambere variety with a minimum potential production of 25 tonnes per hectare, Gisubizo with potential 35 tonnes production per hectare, Ndamira with potential production of around 40 tonnes per hectare, while Cyerekezo, Twigire and Seka have a potential production of 30 tonnes per hectare.
According to Dr Kirimi, while most of the varieties that farmers are familiar with are able to produce between seven and 11 tonnes per hectare, the new ones can hit between 30 and 60 tonnes, with the same agronomic practices.
The new varieties of potato that have been under development over the last seven years will be distributed to the multipliers in the next season.
Dr Kirimi said that they are environmentally friendly and could enable farmers to cut operating costs.
“Other varieties that are on the market are more susceptible to diseases meaning farmers have to spray between 11 to 15 times to realise good production; however, the new varieties only need three spray sessions or less. This means, we are reducing the amount of chemicals ruining the soil as well as allowing farmers save some money by cutting operational costs,” said Kirimi.
Also, whereas other varieties of the seeds have to spend up to three months in dormancy before being ready for plantation, researchers indicate that the new varieties could reduce the seeds dormancy period from 90 days up to 30 days.
“A farmer in Karongi, who harvested in December or January and seeking to plant again in February or March will be unable to get seeds from the produce. However, we now have material like Shangi, which if harvested in February can also be planted in March,” Dr Kirimi said.
He added that the new varieties could be stored longer than the existing ones.
The new varieties are more in line with what both farmers and Irish potato processors need as they provide them with alternatives.
For instance, the Kinigi variety has been the sole option to seed processors, but it is not suitable because of its shape.
“We have been most of the time failing to get the required potatoes for the processors in terms of quality yet we have had plenty harvest.
With the new varieties coming up, we look forward to increasing our production,” Isaac Nzabarinda, a potato seeds multiplier and farmer in Musanze district told Rwanda Today.
Chips and crisps
On the other hand, while with only one potato variety of Kinigi available for chips making, the potato processors have been incurring huge losses during the pilling process that could reach up to 40 per cent on each potato, the new developments could offer better alternatives.
“Though the Kinigi variety is good due to its high dry content, its high loss rate makes it not suitable for us the processing businesses,” Moses Kagaba, the accountant and administration officer at Nyabihu Potato Company told Rwanda Today.
“We have been given some of these varieties to try for the production of the chips and they are favourable to the processing businesses because the quality is good and the losses are minimal around two and three per cent,” he added.
Rwanda Agriculture Board indicates that the varieties are to be distributed to the seeds multipliers and could reach the farmers in the next season.