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Namakwaland: Commercializing Dutch Potato Varieties in Uganda

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.

In 2014, Namakwaland purchased around 270 acres of land in Uganda’s Masaka District next to Lake Birinzi.

The plan was to produce potato on a commercial scale for both export and to supply Ugandan processors.

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.

“We would plant one ton of seed for local varieties on one hectare, expecting to produce three to five tons, but would harvest only one ton of ware potato. Even when we used fertilizer, the plants would vegetate, but no additional potato tubers were formed. It was a huge loss."

- John Mugisha, Operations Manager, Namakwaland.

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.

In 2018, REACH-Uganda, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Uganda, partnered with Namakwaland as part of their work to facilitate the sustainable development of Uganda’s potato sector.

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.

Mr Kasimu added that the fact that they could supply large quantities and achieve desired processing qualities such as low sugar, high dry matter and shallow eyes, ensured the potatoes met the standards large processors were looking for.

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.

Seed multiplication has diversified Namakwaland’s production streams from supplying potato to processors to also supplying seed potato to farmers.

It is expected that 439 farmers will be accessing seed from Namakwaland by 2022.

Cold Room Storage

Through the partnership with REACH-Uganda, Namakwaland constructed two cold room storage facilities with a capacity of 90 - 100 MT each. Namakwaland contributed USD 36,000 while REACH-Uganda made an investment of approximately USD 140,000.

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.

“We appreciate REACH-Uganda’s role in linking us with UDB.It would not make any business sense to go with other financial institutions whose interest rates were three times as much as UDB, with monthly payment terms. With UDB we pay quarterly and we received the exact loan applied for,” said Mr Mugisha.

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.

The Future of Potato in Uganda

Potato is an important crop for food and income generation and is considered a strategic crop with potential to improve rural incomes, livelihoods and food and nutrition security in Uganda.

The introduction and commercialization of Dutch potato varieties has the ability to increase productivity in the sector and to open up new domestic and international markets.

These markets will be accessible to Ugandan potato farmers along with other actors along the potato value chain.

REACH-Uganda is proud to partner with entities like Namakwaland Farm to achieve this goal.

About REACH-Uganda: By the end of 2020, REACH-Uganda activities had been implemented in 20 districts in South West and Eastern Uganda, targeting the improvement of potato and rice market systems. Using a market systems development approach, REACH-Uganda has improved market engagement for farmers, strengthened household resilience, and deepened the availability of agriculture support services. As a result, 36,398 farmers (62% women, 37% youth) have been trained in Farming as a Business, Good Agricultural Practices and Climate Smart Agriculture. A total of 6,627 potato and 17,532 rice farmers have earned an additional USD 10.2m through increased productivity. Rehabilitation of 67km of feeder roads has allowed improved market, health and education access for over 156,000 individuals. By 2024 REACH-facilitated agribusiness linkages between farmers and 26 private sector firms including banks will assist 59,798 farmers and create 826 full time jobs. It is projected that 3,600 farmers will register increased savings of USD 2.1m.

Credits

  • Photography and Text: IFDC Uganda / Agnetta Nabukenya
  • Editing and Digital Production: Lisa Ritchie

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