Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Friday, July 17, 2015

Using sawdust to increase the shelf life of the potatoes

7 July 2015. Fair Planet. African farmers triumph over pests report of the successes of a potato preservation method.

By using sawdust, the shelf life of the potatoes is increased from six weeks to between two and three months depending on the potato variety. Among the farmers in the meeting are five Kenyans, two Ugandans and two Rwandese. They are here on a farmer exchange program. The success of the low cost preservation technique has won hearts across East Africa.

To store the potatoes after harvest, the farmers identify a clean space where they would like to store their potatoes. They then spread chips of sawdust evenly before placing potatoes on top of sawdust. Another layer of sawdust is spread on top of the potatoes. The sawdust, according to the farmers, must be moist but not overly wet. Dry sawdust affects the quality of potato and makes them prone to pests while wet sawdust makes potatoes rot.
“Potato has become a hot commodity but in the recent past it had been loosing value due to farmers planting and harvesting at the same time. In a bid to dispose it in time to avoid rotting, all farmers would take theirs to the market, creating a glut and ultimately a low farm gate price,” Tassus Mapunda the head of Iringa farmers group. 
According to a survey by Bridgenet Africa, a not-for-profit organization working with farmers across Africa, farm gate price of potatoes that had hit unprecedented lows from 2009 to 2013 in most Sub Saharan countries had contributed to the diminished production of the crop.

A 90kg bag of potatoes that initially cost $50 had plummeted to between $20 and $25 due to oversupply. The sawdust innovation is now resuscitating production, albeit gradually. Mapunda says market prices have increased and demand for potatoes is spread across the country since buyers are now assured of constant supply.

Scientists have also taken time to study these innovations to understand their efficacy in fighting African farmers’ biggest headache and have given them a clean bill of health. 
“In countries that lose up to 40 percent of harvested yields to these pests, creating market imbalances and fanning hunger cycle, these innovations are the region’s best bet for now,” said Professor Phillip Mwathe from the University of Nairobi College of Agriculture and Veterinary Services in a keynote address to agriculture ministers from Africa who had gathered to discuss threats to Africa’s food production.
Industry players have also rallied their support to these innovations arguing that they are a cheaper way of increasing food supply rather than producing more.

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