The first rains signal the beginning of another planting season. Wearing a brown wrapper and yellow blouse, Mary Bwakat is already on her farm clearing land to plant Irish potatoes. She is excited about the rains, but has mixed feelings. She worries that the diseases which are common during the rainy season—such as late blight—could attack her crop.
Late blight can decimate yields of Irish potatoes. Mrs. Bwakat says that, to manage the disease, farmers are advised to use good quality, disease-free, certified seeds and a variety of good practices. But disease-free seeds are both expensive and scarce.
She says, “I’ve been cultivating Irish potatoes for 15 years now but I have never seen and used clean, certified seeds.”
Mrs. Bwakat lives in Maikatako village in the Bokkos Local Government Area of Plateau State in north central Nigeria. Plateau State is the hub of Irish potato production in the country and the crop is transported in large quantities to other areas. This means that Irish potatoes are one of the most important sources of income for local farmers.
Although the climate in Plateau State is favourable for growing potatoes, there has been a decrease in production, mainly due to late blight.
Micah Bature is 68 years old and has been farming Irish potatoes for over 30 years in Plateau State. He agrees that clean certified seeds are not easily accessible for small-scale farmers in the area. But he and other farmers are having success using a variety of practices for preventing and managing late blight.
Danbaba Anthony is the coordinator of the potato program at the National Root Crop and Research Institute in Plateau State. His organization researches and improves production, processing, and storage of root and tuber crops. Mr. Anthony advises farmers to use proper spraying practices and positive selection, a process where farmers harvest and cultivate only healthy plants.
Shippi Emmanuel is the chairman of Solanum Potatoes and Vegetable Marketers Association. He says that farmers who are adopting good agricultural practices are no longer scared of late blight and are increasing production.
Mr. Emmanuel lists a variety of practices that can help farmers get healthy crops that yield well. They include crop rotation, sole cropping, applying pesticides, and selecting healthy plants for the next season six to eight weeks after planting.
Dawam Jonathan also grows Irish potatoes in Plateau State. He says, “I have adopted crop rotation, positive selection, and proper use of fungicides and pesticides to control potato blight disease.”
Mrs. Bwakat says that good practices helped her manage blight and get bumper yields that improved her income. She now earns about 250,000 Nigerian naira ($615 US) compared to about 100,000 to 120,000 Nigerian naira ($245 to $295 US) in the past.
She says: “With the better income that I get now … I am able to save for my children’s school fees and cater for other household needs.”
This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellscaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit GjbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project in Nigeria in partnership with AFC Agriculture and Finance Consultants.