It’s about eight o’clock in the morning. Everna Mfuse is wearing a yellow, red, and black dress with green trousers, and is busy harvesting Irish potatoes with friends in her one-and-a-half hectare field. The 42-year-old mother says it’s a happy day. In the past, her yields were too low to invite friends to help her harvest.
Mrs. Mfuse says: “I started growing Irish potatoes in 1994 and back then, I did not know the importance of selecting good seeds and using fertilizers and pesticides. In one acre, I was harvesting only five sacks of potatoes.”
Mrs. Mfuse lives with her two children in Nundu village in the Njombe region of Tanzania’s Southern Highlands. The region usually receives a good amount of rain throughout the year and has fertile soils.
In 2012, Mrs. Mfuse attended a farmers fair at Uyole in Mbeya region, where she learned how to grow Irish potatoes with improved methods.
She says her skills in growing Irish potatoes have improved immensely over the past several years because of what she learns from the extension officer and from the trainings her farming group receives.
She says she now knows how to plant Irish potatoes with the recommended spacing: 60-75 cm between rows and 20-25 cm within rows, depending on the variety. She also knows good techniques for land clearing, fertilizer and pesticide use, and irrigating her farm.
She adds: “I prefer weeding using a hand hoe and leaving the [crop residues] on the farm to decompose into soil nutrients. Now I harvest potatoes throughout the year.” Her yields have also increased significantly.
Chelina Mlingo is a farmer who gets potato vines from Mrs. Mfuse. But today, she is helping her harvest. Her goal is to become a successful farmer like Mrs. Mfuse, and she is learning a number of growing techniques from her.
Telesia Mcha is the managing director of Stawisha, an organization that works closely with Irish potato farmers in the area to encourage them to grow improved varieties. Mr. Mcha explains that, apart from training farmers and providing access to vines, the organization also encourages business investments in Irish potato farming.
He says: “We want to revolutionize potato farming … to move from hand hoe farming to use of machinery. Farmers should use machines in planting, weeding, and harvesting which allow them to cultivate on a large area and increase production.”
This year, Mrs. Mfuse will plant three hectares of Irish potatoes. She expects to harvest about 350 sacks and make about 17,500,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $7,650 US).
She started growing Irish potatoes with 100,000 Tanzanian shillings in capital (about $44 US), but now has five million shillings (about $2,200 US), four milking cows, a good brick house where she lives, and a 12-room house for other people to rent.
She adds: “I have two kids that are studying at a good school. I pay school fees for each of them and I have expanded my land to grow more potatoes. I also distribute vines to other farmers in the area.”
This story was prepared with the support of USAID’s New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge Fund, through the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Tanzania. For more information about the Fund, please see: https://www.ifad.org/