Nigeria is looking to pull in a bundle. No, not from oil–but potato exports.
The government released its plan early this year to boost the productivity of sweet potato from the six ton per hectare to 25 ton per hectare by 2015. It also wants to increase national production from two million to six million tons by 2016.
Business News recently interviewed renowned agro-economist, Professor Olusegun Ajetomobi about the plan and its potential.
“The potato industry is a large part of the agricultural base in Nigeria, which is the third largest producer of sweet potatoes in the world. Potato production and processing industries purchase some of their inputs from other local industries,” said Ajetomobi. “The employees of potato farms and processing plants spend part of their income on local goods and services. These purchases magnify the total economic impact of potatoes on the economy of potato-producing states. Several cross-sectional studies show that potato business is more profitable than other tubers.”
According to the professor, the sweet potato is not only an established staple crop, but “an important source of raw materials for the manufacture of wide range of industrial products such as starch, liquid glucose, ethanol and a substitute for wheat flour in bread.”
When asked why Nigeria had not previously exported potatoes to countries like Spain that depend on imported potatoes? Ajetomobi said, “Today, potatoes have become an integral part of much of the world’s cuisine and are the world’s fourth-largest food crop, following rice, wheat and maize. Hence, there exists great opportunities for export of potatoes in Nigeria. One basic reason for poor export might be over-reliance on export of crude oil and less attention paid by the governments to the export of non-traditional products.”
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He also pointed out that farmers had not been pushed to consider potatoes as a money making crop. “Another major issue may be poor motivation for manufacturers interested in packaging and processing of the crops to meet the basic requirements of the importers. Meanwhile, the need to meet the local demand for potatoes and its processed products may create some challenges in meeting the raw material needs of exporting firms,” he said. “Major production constraints facing potatoes farmers are: land fragmentation, lack of improved practices, poor storability, insufficient credit facilities, poor extension services, poor road transportation and high cost of productivity increasing inputs.”