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Can the potato, a vegetable rich in carbohydrates, be a viable food alternative to the traditional Ethiopian food menu? A roundtable discussion held at an international conference on potato seems to say ‘yes’ to this question. The conference was held at the Hilton Addis on Dec.4, 2012.
Hans Van den Heuvel, an agricultural counselor from the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa who organized the meeting in conjunction with the University of Wageningen, says the potato’s full benefits have yet to be tapped in Ethiopia. He said organizing a strong market interlink between research institutes, traders, investors, producers and processors can upgrade the profile of this essential foodstuff. According to Hans Van den Heuvel, this meeting is being used as a real and virtual platform to run and successfully maintain potato development programs in Ethiopia, which can be used primarily by smallholder farmers, to provide a decent income.
“The Potato is the third most popular food crop in the world, and as such, it is gaining importance around the globe,” said Hans, adding that he has observed an increasing demand for them in the local market, as well as an increase in awareness of potato as a valuable export item in international markets, especially to the Middle Eastern and Far Eastern Countries.
Alemu Worku, the National Potato research coordinator at the Amhara Regional state Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI), in his research presentation said that potato is an important food and cash crop, primarily in the highlands and in urban areas, due mainly to the growing number of fast food industries and hotels in Ethiopia.
He also explained that potato is among the most efficient commodities for converting natural resources, labor and capital into high quality food, and because of its short duration to reach maturity, it is of strategic importance for mitigating food crisis in disaster situations, which makes it all the more worthwhile for drought prone countries like Ethiopia.
Potato reportedly also has higher yields per unit time and better nutritional values as compared to many food crops grown in the country.
However, he acknowledged, the potato market faces major constraints in Ethiopia such as lack of improved potato varieties to counter diseases, vulnerability to attacks by insects and pests, low quality seed and unavailability of seed schemes, poor agronomic practices used by farmers and inadequate post-harvest management.
Alemu further said the Ethiopian government sees potato as an essential food item and as such is working on a general objective to improve its productivity so that it can substantially contribute to food security strategy of the country and be used in processing industries.
The Ethiopian government has reportedly zoomed in on opportunities and future research for the long term goal of firmly implanting the crop as an essential food item in its food security scheme.
This includes diversifying its improved seed varieties types of potato, of which 29 have already been developed, keeping up with the demand side then exceeding it, as urban market prices continue to rise and publicly availing researched and standardized agronomic practices.