Professor of potatoes

Andre Jooste reveals more about the potato in economic terms

Potaotes provide greater nutrition and can contribute to food security
potatoes.jpg

Professor André Jooste, professor of economics and the chief executive officer of Potato SA, gave Harvest SA great insights into the potato market in relation to our food security concerns.

He believes that if we grow the potato market locally, we would be a lot closer to eating a balanced diet, and not being food insecure. In rural areas, often times the land is where they turn to feed themselves and their families.

The thing about potatoes is that they grow in all our provinces, so land is not really an issue, and they grow fairly quickly.

While it is costly to enter into farming of any nature, potato farming despite the cost has a dual purpose.

A small scale potato farmer can easily rise to the ranks of commercial farmer if he follows the guidelines on how to farm potatoes. The other purpose, is that potatoes will and do contribute to food security.

As far as food security goes, its not only about maize, but about growing potatoes and having a more balanced diet than just eating maize meal. As a small scale farmer, you do not need the same amount of land to be commercially viable when you farm potatoes, though input costs remain high.

“You need knowledge about producing the product because it is very disease prone so a potato farmer would have to act quickly to eradicate the disease. It is quite an intensive cultivation practice,” said Jooste. The amount of start-up cash can be quite daunting but the long-term rewards are priceless.

“The production capital to farm potatoes can range between R60 000 and R120 000 per hectare depending on where you are in the country and whether it is dry land, or if it is irrigated or not,” explained Jooste.

However, if you look after your crop and have all your ducks in a row, it can be equally remunerative in terms of the returns it will give you, so it can be very empowering to people who farm potatoes.

Giving back

One of the core functions of the organisation is based heavily on transformation.

“We have bursaries for students at the undergraduate and post graduate level, to study potatoes – whether it is economics, food science or plant pathology, those opportunities are there for them.

“We have other programmes in terms of farm-based training where we partner with Agriseta, and provide training to farmers and training to farm labourers.

“We also have our social development programme which is more security based where we go into rural areas and identity communities and through our field offices assist those communities to plant potatoes and through that try and inspire young farmers to go to a small scale level.

“Eventually they can go commercial,”Jooste said. Much like Grain SA has its rural farmer development programme, so too does Potato SA.

“We have a programme where we identify small holder farmers who have an interest in potato farming as well as the potential and then provide support through various means to those particular potato farmers,” explained Jooste.

Business today requires partnering up with like-minded organisations. Potato SA has a partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture to identify farmers and provide technical as well as machinery assistance to small holder farmers.

Job creation

According to Jooste, the vegetable industry within the agriculture sector, has the highest employment multiplier of all sectors, and agriculture in general has the highest employment multiplier in the economy.

He said studies done by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that in 2008 with our high food prices that it has five to six times higher chance of improving welfare for rural areas than any other sector of the economy. South Africa produces 38kg per capita annually, whereas in the United Kingdom, it is 105kg per capita.

One of South Africa’s biggest challenges is to increase consumption, which will benefit the producer at the end of the day.

Potatoes have the potential to expand in all the provinces, and according to Jooste, we are nowhere close to producing enough of our own potatoes, so while it contributes to food security, on a much broader scale, potatoes could be the answer to the prayers of those living in poverty.

 “We export primarily seed potatoes (processed potatoes) that go to neighbouring markets which are untapped and will need attention from the seed side and the table side.” Consumer education, according to Jooste will contribute to the sustainability and expansion of the potato market.

Buying potatoes these days provides choice to the consumer and it is the hope of those in the potato industry to further educate the consumer and help to grow the industry. To understand the consumer a lot better, Potato SA will conduct consumer orientated research to understand the food security needs of our country.

 

 

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