Kabale, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The drop in Irish potato production in Kigezi sub-region has raised concern among farmers and agriculture experts. Irish potatoes are both a staple food and a source of income for farmers in the region. Kabale, Rubanda, Rukiga and Kisoro districts produce at least 60% of the crop in the country.
Outside Kigezi, Irish potatoes are mostly grown in the Bugisu sub-region, Mubende, and Mityana districts. In Kigezi, common varieties grown by farmers include Rwangume, Kinigi, Nakapot 5, Kachwe 1, and Rutuku, according to National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS).
But research conducted by Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), a non-governmental organisation over the last 12 years shows that Irish potato production is on a decline.
Professor Jonny Mugisha, a researcher attached to Makerere University School of Agriculture Sciences and the executive director of Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), says that the research has proved that Irish potato production has declined from 7 metric tonnes per hectare to four metric tons in the last seven years.
Mugisha says that one of the major reasons behind the decline in production is the recycling of Irish potato seeds by farmers. He explains that farmers in Kigezi have the tendency of planting small size Irish potato seeds and selling the bigger size.
Beda Mwebesa, the Kabale District Production and Marketing Officer says that as local leaders, they are aware of the reduction of Irish potato productivity in the area. Mwebesa says that some diseases attacking Irish potatoes like latent infection of bacterial wilt, leaf bright and tuber moth diseases have contributed to the low productivity.
Mwebesa also attributes the problem to the general decline in soil fertility.
Miria Tugume Akankwasa, an Irish potato farmer in Butanda sub-county, Kabale district admits that the production of Irish potatoes has reduced. Tugume narrates that in the recent season, she planted 500 kilograms (30 bags) of seeds expecting to harvest more than a ton but only harvested 3000 kilograms (30 bags).
Tugume attributes the decline of production to weather changes. She says that during that season, the area experienced too many rains, which did not allow her Irish potatoes to get warmth for the tubers to expand.
Tugume also admits that as farmers they still have a cultural belief that planting small Irish potato seeds saves them from using too many seeds compared to plating bigger seeds.
Retired Major Fred Bwino Kyakulaga, the State Minister for Agriculture in charge of Crop production, says that farmers traditionally believe that only small Irish potato seeds are for planting. He says that the minister will consider educating farmers about the merits of using better and quality seeds.