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January 2024

Potato in Mozambique is an important commodity adding substantially to food security and economics of the Zambezi Valley region. I recently visited the country to find out how the crop can further contribute to food security of the country and to farmers and traders income. Of the 10,000 ha of national potato area yielding about 120,000 tons of potato about 90 % is produced in the North-West central region of the Tete province districts Tsangano and Angonia. Another 130,000 t are imported annually from South Africa so Mozambique import more potato than it produces itself. We may safely conclude that the local production has insufficient competitiveness compared to South Africa. And South Africa lacks competitiveness when compared to Northern Europe – wanting to close its borders for imports of frozen potato products, but that is another story. There are two reasons for imports into Mozambique: the bulk of the imports from South Africa go to the capital Maputo that is closer to the South African market than to its own production region 20 hours by truck partly on unpaved roads. Another reason is that the production costs of Mozambican potato are higher than of South African potato. This partly has to do with the South African economy of scale where most potatoes are grown on large farms with center pivot irrigation equipment whereas most potatoes in Mozambique are grown by small holders, rain fed in the rainy season and irrigated by gravitation furrow irrigation in the dry season. Growers are unaided by decision support to assist in timing and dose of fertilisers, fungicides and water, many do not fertilise at all but grow potato after many years of fallow. These are the reasons that the national yield around twelve tons per hectare against 40 tons in South Africa.

Usually when I travel to a country to rapidly appraise its potato cluster I give recommendations regarding research and development and transfer of technology. This time, however, in Mozambique I found there is a need for entrepreneurship in the potato value chain. No processing of potato takes place into crisps or fries except one junction near the Malawi border where truckers can buy chicken and chips as the photograph shows. No local potato is washed nor packed locally. As a result all fresh potatoes and products are imported from South Africa. Local entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to increase yields, reduce production costs and create value. The following businesses schemes are considered. A company produces certified seed from national and imported stocks; trains agents to reproduce and sell in remote areas. One such company – Montesco – already exists and acts as agent of a Netherlands based company. The supermarkets only sell white skinned potato where the local ones are coloured. An entrepreneur discusses with some super market chains about year round delivery, starting small with one super market and gradually building up capacity. Another talks to quick service restaurants – in the North there are no outlets of the international chains – about delivery of the right quality and amounts of potatoes suitable for French fries. At longer term even about delivery of peeled, cut, blanched and chilled potato. Mozambique recently discovered huge deposits of coal and now has the largest reserves of Africa. The meals of many thousands of miners are supplied by catering companies. Local entrepreneurs ought to supply the potatoes needed for the over 20,000 daily meals, similarly as they should do restaurants. There is no processing, not even cottage industry of making crisps on markets or road side, this offers possibilities for entrepreneurs. A better use of resources, notably fertilisers, biocides and irrigation water could greatly enhance yields and improve profits. Entrepreneurs setting up small soil test labs and delivering advise on timing and dose of inputs while selling chemicals would be of added value and prove to be a return on the investment for the grower. It could be followed by research to solve some problems at the weakest links of the potato value chain but the quickest gain in Mozambique and similar countries in Africa can be made by the creation of emterprises and preferably so jointly with ones of well advanced potato economies. ●

Anton Haverkort


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