Uganda has an exciting and emerging potato processing industry and domestic demand for potato products is growing. Hotels and major food chains are currently importing potato products (around 3,640 MT annually) to meet this demand.
South African family agricultural enterprise, High-Gro Agri Namakwaland-Birinzi Farm (Namakwaland) recognised an opportunity in the Uganda potato sector and expanded into Uganda in 2013.
The strong domestic market demand combined with Namakwaland's professional management structure and quality production facilities such as irrigation systems and mechanized agricultural equipment, meant the enterprise was set to become the largest supplier of potato to processors in the country.
However, there was just one problem – seed.
Namakwaland was aware of Dutch potato varieties and their potential to produce higher potato yields that were suited to processing.
They purchased a small amount of Dutch seed potato from another farm in 2016-2017 to trial.
But they were again faced with the challenge of a consistent supply of seed – for local varieties and now also the new Dutch varieties.
After learning about the Resilient and Efficient Agribusiness Chains (REACH-Uganda) Project’s work in partnership with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO Uganda) to evaluate and release eight Dutch varieties suitable for potato processing in Uganda, Namakwaland procured Dutch seed potato varieties of Sagitta, Panamera and Taurus, feeling confident that the seed supply may be improved.
With these processing-friendly and disease-resistant varieties, they experienced better yields.
They sold the potato to processors, but they could not guarantee supply as it was expensive and lengthy to procure the seed for production.
This was further exacerbated by the absence of a Dutch seed potato multiplier in the Ugandan market to provide seed.
REACH-Uganda is working to introduce and promote higher-yielding Dutch potato varieties that process well and can be grown and processed locally.
Namakwaland farm presented a good partnership opportunity through which to support the commercialization of Dutch potato production in Uganda.
As an added bonus, Namakwaland could support the sector as a multiplier of the Dutch seed potato varieties and by serving as a hub for potato outgrower programs through which to provide training and technical support.
More than 100 MT of Dutch Seed Potato Provided
REACH-Uganda supported Namakwaland to import 109 MT of Dutch seed potato from Dutch seed potato propagators, HZPC and Agrico, on a cost-share basis. This included 25 MT of Elite (Taurus variety) to be used for seed production and 84 MT to produce ware potato (50 MT Taurus and 34 MT Markies varieties) in 2020.
“In our previous experience, Taurus and Markies were the varieties best suited to the soil on our farm. They respond to fertilizers and form up to 20 tubers per plant. In 2020, we planted 1.5 MT of this seed potato per hectare, and we harvested 20 MT per hectare.”
- Kato Kasimu, Namakwaland Farm Manager.
Namakwaland supplied 333.4 MT (153.8 MT Markies and 179.6 MT Taurus) to the potato market and, through linkages established by REACH-Uganda, they sold most of their produce to Psalms Food Industries Limited, a Ugandan potato crisp processor and Chicken Express, a Ugandan fast-food chain.
“It was a tedious process to import potatoes all the way from South Africa, made even lengthier and more expensive with taxes. As a potato processing business, we are happy that these Dutch varieties have been introduced, because we are able to reduce costs through purchasing locally without compromising the quality of chips served to our customers.”
- Gladstone Okuma, Operations Manager, Chicken Express.
REACH-Uganda facilitated an intensive training on Dutch seed potato multiplication and Namakwaland was then able to secure a license from HZPC to multiply their seed potato varieties locally. Namakwaland was also officially licensed as a seed producer by the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF).
This represented an important first step to ensuring a consistent supply of Dutch seed potato in Uganda. It will also reduce costs and time for Namakwaland Farm and increase access to these processing varieties for farmers all over Uganda.
Namakwaland is also supporting farmers interested in producing Dutch potato varieties through a combination of training and farm visits, equipping them with the knowledge needed to produce maximum, quality yields.
Namakwaland Farm Operations Manager, John Mugisha, explained the significance of this co-investment.
“The cold room is probably the most important thing we have at the farm because we are able to keep both seed and ware potatoes for many months without spoilage. The seed potato does not get infected or rot, and sprouts quickly in the cold room. When planted, it grows as anticipated, which was not the case with traditional storage,” he said.
Mr Mugisha added that they were now able to maintain the moisture and sugar content in the ware potato before delivery to customers, which ensures they deliver consistently good quality produce.
Access to Finance
In 2019, Namakwaland sought to purchase new machinery to increase potato production. As they began seeking finance they found the commercial banks offered terms that the business could not meet or were not designed to support or factor in business growth. As a result, expansion plans were put on hold.
REACH-Uganda connected Namakwaland to the Uganda Development Bank (UDB), a government-owned institution mandated to support private sector development with affordable finance, with a specific focus on agriculture.
The loan was put towards the completion of the cold room structure and the purchase of additional potato planters, potato harvesters, a weed cutter, ploughing machines and a van for delivery of smaller quantities of potato.
Namakwaland also plans to construct office space and staff living quarters on the farm. These steps are all aimed at increasing the efficiency and production capacity of the farm, so that it can meet the high demand for potato.