It has been established that one of the ways to diversify our economy is through agriculture. Through agriculture we would be able to feed ourselves, earn foreign exchange and stabilise our local currency. The responsibility to diversify the economy rests not just on the government but also on all of us. We all ought to be involved. For instance, you can deploy that space of land in your compound or that land lying fallow near your house into farming of some sort. You can plant maize, plantain, banana, cassava, coconut, cocoyam, yam, you name it. If you do that, you would be contributing your quota to food security in this country. You can move a step further by going into large-scale or commercial farming. In that case, you would be able to feed yourself and then take the excess to the market. That is why I have taken it upon myself, all these while, to be bringing to your attention various types of farming through which you can produce food for yourself as well as make money and help the economy to grow. So, let us talk about one of them – potato farming.
Potato is one of the important food crops, ranking fourth in the whole world. Potato is a tuberous crop like yam and a good substitute for yam in that its protein content is equivalent to that of yam. It is rich in vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in starch, nitrogen which is essential nutrient for babies. Sweet potato is also a source of raw material for the manufacture of a number of products such as starch, ethanol, and glucose. It can also be used as a substitute for wheat in bread baking. Potato farming has some advantages of low cost seeds, simple cultivation process and less labour.
There are different varieties of potato. We have the sweet potato, Irish potato and orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). The advantage of the last over others is that it contains reasonable quantity of Vitamin A and energy. OFSP is achieved by plant breeding and is bio-fortified.
Potato can be cultivated and harvested three times a year. It grows very well both in rainy or dry season. In dry season farmers use irrigation and apply organic and inorganic fertilizers where necessary.
Nigeria is the third largest producer of potato in the world. China is the first followed by Tanzania. In Nigeria, Plateau State is the largest producer of potato with about 90 percent of total production. Other states that are high on potato production are Cross River and Taraba. Virtually all states of Nigeria can grow potato. Between November to February potato can be grown through irrigation in northern states of Yobe, Zamfra, Borno, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Gombe, Sokokto, Jigawa, Kaduna and Kebbi.
Plateau State is the home of Irish Potatoes especially in Mngu, and Bokkos Local Government Areas where it is cultivated in commercial quantity. The chilled climate of the state is favourable for the cultivation of the root crop.
Potato can be planted at any time of the year. All you need to do is clear the land, procure the seeds or stem through which it can be planted. The seed or stem does not cost much. Make heaps or ridges where you plant the stem or seed. Apply fertilser (organic or inorganic) if the soil is not fertile. It can do well in fertile soils without fertilizer. You can intercrop with maize or guinea corn. Apply herbicide and nematicides to ensure that the weeds do not bring about poor yields. Do not allow the farm to be choked by weeds. It matures for harvesting in three months. Potato can also be grown in sacks. This process adopted from Israeli technology can produce three times more yields than the traditional methods. This method is suitable in urban centres where there is lack of farmlands.
Irish potatoes produced in Plateau are exported to countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Ghana, Benin Republic and Cameroon.
Potato can be cooked, fried, baked or roasted like yam. It can as well be used in soups and stews or processed into juice drinks. Potato can also be processed into chips, starch and flakes. Many can tap into potato processing and make a living from it as the market and demand are very high.
Potato farming is very lucrative because of the low investment cost and high demand. Potato farming creates jobs in form of farm hands for the youths who engage in harvesting, bagging and loading into trucks in market places to other countries. The middlemen who serve as agents and go-betweens for farmers and buyers are also not left out as they buy potatoes directly from the farmers and in turn sell to their clients. Yet others have specialised in supplying to companies as raw materials or processing potato into chips or drinks. There is a lot to gain from potato value chain. Invest in it today and make your own fortunes.