Burundi: The queen of seed potatoes

December 15, 2014
A translation for this article is available in French

Annociate Manirakiza is one of the saviours of Burundi’s potato sector. The 47-year-old farmer lives in Kayanza, the centre of Burundi’s potato growing region. She set up a system to multiply quality seed potatoes on her farm. Mrs. Manirakiza says proudly: “My production was not good because I was using poor quality, unselected seeds. So, in 2013, I started a propagation system on small plots, measuring nine by 1.8 metres.”

Farmers need good seeds to produce a good crop. The situation is no different for potato farmers. But there has been a serious lack of quality seed potatoes in Burundi for several years. Many producers had to use seeds of unknown origin and dubious quality.

The National Research Institute of Burundi, or ISABU, is the only institution that produces seed potatoes in the country. But it has been able to meet less than one-third of national demand. So the institute is supporting farmers such as Mrs. Manirakiza who want, and have the skills, to grow seed potatoes on their own farms. These farmers can then sell their seed potatoes to other growers.

Such a system better controls disease, and makes it easier to distribute good quality seed potatoes. Mrs. Manirakiza buys her seed potatoes from ISABU, then plants them 20 centimetres apart.

She multiples seed potatoes on eight small plots. She also grows two and a half hectares of potatoes for sale and home use. She explains: “My life has completely changed. I used to plant two tonnes [of potatoes] and … harvest only seven or eight tonnes. But now it’s a different story. I harvest 17 to 18 tonnes.”

Encouraged by Mrs. Manirakiza’s success and the effectiveness of her system, ISABU is helping other farmers multiply seed potatoes. Mrs. Manirakiza says, “We have formed a co-operative to work together and cover the demand for quality seeds.”

Mrs. Manirakiza is bursting with new ideas. She teamed up with another farmer, 37-year-old Daphrose Niyonsaba, and opened a shop where farmers can buy inputs.

Mrs. Niyonsaba says that most local potato growers buy their inputs from the shop. The women sell seed potatoes and fertilizers, and are planning to expand their stock and sell other inputs, including pesticides.

The shop provides local farmers with an excellent service, according to Jean Bosco Niyonsaba, a farmer from the nearby village of Muruta. He says: “I bought nearly all my seeds from Mrs. Manirakiza. She sells four varieties [which we like to grow on the farm]. I have had great results since I started using her selected seeds.”

Mrs. Manirakiza no longer has to ask her husband, Pierre Minani, for money. She is now able to cover her family’s expenses from what she earns.

Mr. Minani rubs his hands with satisfaction. He says: “I cannot explain how proud I am of my wife. I no longer need to borrow money from my friends to pay for some household expenses. We can afford to take morning tea. Before, we could not. She is an example to other women in the community.”

Mrs. Manirakiza plans to process some of the potatoes she grows. She realizes that bigger harvests are likely to cause a glut in the market and a drop in price. And she recognizes that processing her potatoes is the best way to protect her profits.