Potatoes hold strong potential to catalyse Nigeria’s agricultural transformation and drive economic diversification. As Africa’s leading producer of potatoes, Nigeria has suitable agro-climatic conditions, arable land spread across the highland areas in Plateau State, and technology adoption capacity. However, most farmers still struggle with low yields, averaging 7 metric tonnes per hectare, against the 50 metric tonnes per hectare achievable benchmark globally. Bridging the productivity gaps can generate more income for farmers while ensuring domestic food sufficiency and exports.
This article offers tips and best practices tailored for Nigeria’s potato farmers seeking to maximise productivity and profitability. Key aspects span integrated agronomic management, mechanisation, post-harvest handling, processing, group farming, financing, and emerging innovations.
Choosing the Right Varieties
The choice of potato variety for cultivation significantly determines potential crop performance and marketability. Farmers should consider key parameters like yield potential, pest and disease tolerance, maturity period, storability, drought resilience, and suitability for available crop management systems. Popular varieties grown by Nigeria’s potato farmers include Lady Christl, Lady Rosetta, Hermes, Walter, Burren, and Rudolph.
Recommended high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties suited for different agro-ecological niches include:
Central Highland Areas
- Lady Christl
- Royal Kidney
Northern Guinea Savannah Region
Sudan Savannah Zone
Soil analysis and preparation
Adequate soil assessment and preparation before potato planting ensures optimal nutrition availability for the best tuber development. Key aspects involve:
- Soil Testing: Conduct laboratory analysis to check the soil pH, organic matter content, and nutritional composition, encompassing nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium. This data guides the rates and types of fertilisers required.
- Selection of Suitable Land: Potatoes require well-drained, deep, loose sandy loam or loamy soils to support quality tuber growth. Avoid dense clay, shallow, stony soils, and areas prone to waterlogging.
- Fertiliser Application: Based on the soil test report findings, thoroughly mix appropriate organic and inorganic fertilisers into the soil 4-6 weeks before planting. This allows their full integration and release of nutrients.
- Land Tillage: Plough the field for depth using a tractor or ox-drawn implement. Follow with harrowing to refine the tilth for seedbed preparation and proper root penetration.
Quality Seed and Treatment
Sourcing certified disease-free-quality seeds of suitable varieties and giving them proper treatment before planting is vital for high productivity. Recommended practices include:
- Obtain seeds only from accredited suppliers and research institutes to guarantee purity, germination rates, and phytosanitary standards.
- Check for physiological age. Avoid using seeds stored over 6–8 months as vigour reduces.
- Treat seeds chemically using fungicides before sowing to protect against soil-borne diseases.
- Cut seed tubers into smaller sets for propagation. Manage weight between 30 and 50g to obtain 8–12 strong stems.
- Allow cut sets to heal by leaving for 1-2 weeks before planting to prevent losses through rotting.
To achieve optimal yields, potato planting should follow certain guidelines regarding timing, spacing, patterns, and depth.
- Planting Season: Target just before the onset of the rainy season for sufficient moisture—around March or April in most regions.
- Spacing: Space rows 60–75 cm apart. Maintain in-row plant spacing at 30cm for an optimum plant population.
- Method: Plant seed tuber sets in straight rows or zig-zag patterns to maximise yields per area. Avoid scattering.
- Depth: Plant at a depth of 10cm below the soil surface for quality emergence percentage and plant stand.
Water requirements and irrigation
Adequate soil moisture is vital for potato growth phases, from planting and leaf area development through tuber bulking and maturity. Supplement rains with irrigation using techniques like furrows, sprinklers, or subsurface pipes to prevent moisture stress.
- Vegetative Stage: Maintain soil moisture around field capacity. Water uptake peaks during full ground cover, reaching 4–8 mm per day.
- Tuber Growth: High soil moisture is required, reaching 6–10 mm per day at the peak bulking phase.
- Maturity Stage: Allow gradual drying out while skins thicken. Excess water leads to secondary growth and cracking.
Balanced fertilisation throughout the potato growth stages is indispensable for optimal development. Tailor rates and frequencies to the soil analysis results.
- Basal: Apply organic manure like compost and half-inorganic fertiliser rates during planting.
- Top Dressing: Side dress with remaining half inorganic fertilisers in splits at vegetative growth, tuber formation, and bulking phases.
- Micronutrients: Foliar spray boron, zinc, and calcium at tuber initiation for proper setting and growth.
Weed, pest, and disease control
Employing timely, integrated weed, pest, and disease management enhances productivity and crop quality.
- Weeds: Maintain clean, weed-free fields through frequent shallow hoe weeding and herbicide application at emergence to prevent competition.
- Insect Pests: Monitor and apply appropriate chemical control against tuber moths, aphids, and leaf miners at the first signs of infestation.
- Diseases: Scout and eliminate plants with bacterial wilt. Apply fungicides to curb late blight, black scurf, and bacterial soft rots.
Mechanising operations where possible enhances potato farming efficiency, profit margins, and global competitiveness. This spans land preparation through post-harvest handling.
Potential mechanisation includes:
- Deploying tractors, power tillers, and laser land levellers for quick, quality seedbed preparation
- Using planters and transplanters for timely, uniform planting at optimised spacing
- Applying mechanised weeders and boom sprayers for field pest control instead of manual practices
- Adopting potato combiners, harvesters, and graders to minimise post-harvest losses
Soil management between seasons
Maintaining soil health and vigour between cropping seasons ensures long-term productivity and farm profitability.
- Leave previous-season potato plant residue and incorporate it fully into the soil to replenish lost organic matter.
- Retain quality ground cover by intercropping or covering crops to control erosion and fix atmospheric nitrogen.
- Practice crop rotation instead of continuous potato cropping to prevent diseases and nutrient deficiencies.
Maintaining updated cost and income statements for each operation provides invaluable data to guide decisions for optimal profit margins. Capture key performance indicators, like:
- Yields per acre/hectare
- Costs of agronomic inputs, from seed, fertilisers, chemicals, and mechanisation
- Operational expenses encompassing land, labour, irrigation, and storage
- Sales proceeds and pricing models from the potato distribution and processing channels
Post-Harvest Handling and Storage
Investing in appropriate post-harvest handling and storage systems preserves harvest quality and availability year-round. This allows regulated supply to markets to avoid gluts and losses while enhancing food security and profitability.
Key aspects involve:
- Cure freshly harvested tubers by keeping them for 5–10 days under regulated warehouse conditions before storage. This toughens the skin and completes sugars. -starch conversion
- Sorting and grading tubers as per quality specifications and intended markets like fresh retail, chip processing, seed, etc.
- Investing in on-farm storage structures like diffused light stores and wire-mesh potato boxes placed in well-aerated venues with an optimum temperature range between 7°C and 15°C, depending on duration
- Maintaining >90% relative humidity in stores through sprinklers or mist generators
- Regular inspection and exclusion of rotting tubers to prevent entire stock losses
Opportunities in Value Addition
Beyond ware potato sales to fresh domestic and export markets, farmers can enhance their income streams through value-adding operations like:
- Chipping: Invest in processing lines to produce crisps, chips, and packaged snacks from premium-grade potatoes suited for frying.
- Frozen French Fries: Set up refrigerated processing to cut and preserve high-quality tubers as par-fried frozen fries for retail and quick-service restaurants.
- Purees: Mechanised units for mashing and aseptically bagging potato purees for industries and fast food chains
- Starch Production: Tap technical partners to invest in commercial starch extraction plants using potatoes as raw material input.
Limited funding constrains farmers from investing adequately in the inputs, operations, storage, and processing enterprises required for viable commercial production.
Potential financing channels include:
- Federal government schemes for agricultural commercialization like the ACGSF, RT200, and Anchor Borrowers Programmes provide single-digit interest loans through participating financial institutions.
- Private equity investments and partnerships with agribusiness venture capital funds like Sahel Capital and Verod Capital, which offer expansion capital against equity participation
- Commercial bank credits facilitated by CACS and NIRSAL based on bankable investment plans
- Cooperative Group Finance Pooling Member Contributions
- Crowdfunding platforms providing alternative finance against an agreement for return on investment
- Grants from development agencies for inputs, mechanisation, and processing plant projects
Belonging to a registered commodity association provides farmers access to multiple benefits for enhancing production, profitability, and global competitiveness. These include:
- Collective trainings on GAPs, record keeping, quality standards compliance, and export market linkages are facilitated by partner NGOs and government agencies.
- Access to bulk discounted rates for inputs like seeds, fertilisers, and crop protection chemicals
- Joint investments in shared cold room and warehouse facilities
- Aggregation of produce volumes to meet large institutional orders and export contracts
- Common transportation to access major cities and international markets at lower costs
Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Deploying digital tools allows farmers to achieve operational excellence through accurate data capture for precise decision-making. Relevant technologies include:
- Record-keeping apps like Farmforce and Farmbetter for input management, weather monitoring, guided crop scheduling, geospatial land analysis, and profitability benchmarking
- E-commerce platforms like AFEX, Tradex, and Farmcrowdy aggregate demand from bulk buyers and provide access to finance, storage, and cargo haulage services. These expand potential markets while enhancing price transparency and timely payments.
Mechanisation and Equipment
Acquiring capital-intensive equipment individually may be constraining for smallholders. Farmers should leverage options like:
- Cooperative Joint Ownership Models: Registered associations can collectively invest in large equipment assets like tractors, implements, planters, and harvesters. Operational and maintenance costs get evenly distributed while ensuring access for members at reasonable rates.
- Custom Hiring Centres: Engage private mechanisation firms offering equipment for rental services on demand. The government is also facilitating the creation of such one-stop-shop centres equipped with frequently required machinery across farming regions to aid smallholders.
Developing strategic partnerships with large integrated processing companies provides farmers access to stable markets, quality inputs, extension services, post-harvest management, and structured pricing mechanisms. These de-risks production while enabling farmers to focus on enhancing yields through good agronomic practices instead of marketing limitations.
Active collaboration between farmers, research institutes, and private partners is indispensable to evolving suitable varieties and optimising agronomic protocols aligned with prevailing conditions. Priorities should encompass:
- Breeding climate-smart, high-yielding varieties with enhanced pest and disease tolerance
- Modifying crop management practices for improved resource use efficiency
- Innovating appropriate small farm mechanisation
- Expanding seed production
- Developing decentralised soil testing facilities
In summary, Nigeria’s potato farmers can substantially increase their incomes by taking a value chain approach, adopting integrated crop management practices tailored to suitable varieties and local conditions, mechanising operations, expanding storage and processing capabilities through individual or group investment models, and fully utilising state-facilitated financial systems and partnerships. Maintaining precise activity records also provides invaluable data to guide decisions for maximising profitability on a consistent basis.