Mali: Potato producers adopt new varieties, best practices to cope with climate change

| May 24, 2021

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Dramane Doucouré grows potatoes in his 300-square-metre garden on the banks of the Niger River in Segou, Mali. In recent years, rainfall in his region has been low, so he plants only in the off-season. He has adopted a new variety of potato that better suits the growing season: Barcelona. He says it is more resistant to the sun. But he must keep the soil moist during the daytime heat. He waters his garden two to three times a day, particularly in the morning and afternoon. Mr. Doucouré is now happy with his harvest but must find a good way to store his surplus potatoes.

It’s 5 p.m. in Sékoro, a district of Ségou, about 200 kilometres from Bamako in south central Mali. In these last hours of the day, potato farmer Dramane Doucouré cuts the weeds in his garden. Mr. Doucouré operates a 300-square metre family garden next to the banks of the Niger River.

In recent years, he has had difficulties due to the low rainfall. He explains, “I used to cultivate all year-round. But because of the scarcity of rains, I now do it just during the off-season.”

Climate change has negatively impacted potato production in Mali. The seasons are unpredictable and producers can no longer rely on the crop calendar. They also have problems accessing inputs, particularly seed potatoes, which often arrive late.

But Mr. Doucouré is planting new varieties of potato that are better suited to the growing season. He says: “I now use the variety called Barcelona. This variety is more resistant to the sun than the Babina variety we used before. But I have to keep the soil moist during the heat by watering my garden two to three times a day, especially in the morning and afternoon.”

Keefa Kane is a potato farmer from Ségou who is also experimenting with new varieties. To protect her garden against the heat, Mrs. Kane waters her potato plants three times a day with a watering can. With her children, Mrs. Kane uses at least 40 to 50 litres of water.

She used to grow the Sahel variety, but is getting better results with a new variety. She explains: “I tried the seed [potato] called GELE. With 10 kilograms of seeds, I harvested over 36 kilograms. This variety makes pretty potatoes that are larger in size and in quantity. It brings in more money because I sell a kilo at 400 FCFA ($0.73 US) whereas with the Sahel variety, I sold a kilogram at 200 FCFA ($0.37 US.) “

In addition to having difficulties with production, potato farmers in Mali have problems with storage. Mr. Doucouré says: “I don’t have the means to keep my harvest for a long time. So when I produce, I put my harvest in bags that I sell at the market. Sometimes I sell between 100 to 120 kg and it earns me 25,000 FCFA ($41.81 US) to 30,000 FCFA ($54.97 US). But my product often rots from staying in the bags under the sun.”

Bougouna Coulibaly is works in the agriculture sector in Ségou. He hosts discussion meetings to advise farmers on best practices. Mr. Coulibaly acknowledges that farmers have difficulty storing their harvest. He suggests they adopt new storage techniques.

For example, farmers should store potatoes in well-ventilated spaces that are protected from the sun. Mr. Coulibaly explains, “There is a lack of cold rooms for storage. As an alternative, production should be kept in spacious mud houses with straw roofs.”

Good post-harvest practices start in the field. Mr. Coulibaly suggests that farmers use organic fertilizers like manure or compost. He also recommends that potatoes be harvested only when they are sufficiently ripe.

As Mr. Doucouré and Mrs. Kane know, water is essential for a good potato harvest. Mr. Coulibaly says that farmers must water their potatoes for an average of at least 15 days This means farmers need between 3,000 and 4,000 litres of water. When farmers use recommended production practices, potatoes are more likely to last longer in storage.  

According to Mr. Coulibaly, good production and storage practices are critical to ensuring that farmers get the maximum benefit from their hard work producing potatoes.

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.