Potato (Solanum tuberosum) is one of the most important crops in the world today. Potato produces more protein and calories per unit area, per unit time, and per unit of water than any other major plant food.
In Eritrea, potato is an important, high nutritional value and popular food crop for consumers and a cash crop to growers. Potato grows well in all the high altitude areas, mid lands and low lands in the cool months of the year under various soil types, and is grown by subsistence and commercial farmers.
Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture of Eritrea estimated that a total of 2,970 hectare of land is under potato cultivation. The potato crop is one of the priority crops that has been targeted for development in the Medium Term Plan and Strategy of the National Agricultural Research Institute of Eritrea.
The current national average yield is low, around 12.5 tons/ha. A significant factor contributing to these low yields is the heavy infestation of seed potatoes with virus. The nutritional and economic value, in addition to the favourable climate of the country, justifies efforts to address constraints of under-utilized productive capacity of the crop.
Some of the constraints that were identified in the highlands and midlands included: weak seed variety, prevalence of viral diseases, high cost of inputs, limited access to extension services, unreliable weather, and low produce price, lack of storage facilities and seed provision systems.
In addressing the intensification drivers, the consortium team in Eritrea, including members from Ireland (Teagasc, Vita), promotes food security at national and regional levels through access to a reliable source of potato tubers (seed), which in turn improves household incomes of beneficiary farmers.
The focus of the project is on developing a scale model of a seed potato system, seed multiplication, tissue culture development and upskilling of research and extension staff. The annual national seed potato requirement, based on the most recent area estimate, is over 3,000 tones which would cost about USD 2.1 Million, which is beyond what the Government can afford.
In the absence of any seed provision system, the normal practice is for farmers to either save the smallest sized tubers for seed in the next season or to simply buy small tubers left over from the vegetable market. This new consortium will strengthen ongoing work supported by Teagasc and Vita in addressing intensification drivers associated with the potato crop in Eritrea.