Zimbabwe: Rains Create Artificial Shortage of Table Potatoes

The recent heavy rains may have enabled farmers to late-plant basic crops but made it difficult to harvest table potatoes creating artificial shortages that pushed the price of a 15kg potato pocket from US$9, 50 to US$15.

This was revealed by Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA) chief executive officer Dr Charles Dhewa while giving an update on Mbare market trading yesterday.

“Potatoes prices have gone up from US$9, 50 for a 15 kilogramme pocket on Monday to US$15 today (yesterday). The same trend was exhibited in baby potatoes whose price rose from US$3 to US$5 for 15kg pockets with small potatoes moving from US$4 to US$7 for a 15kg bag. Medium-sized potatoes moved from US$5 to US$10 with the price of the large-sized ones changing from US$7 to US$13 for a 15kg pocket,” Dr Dhewa said.

Harvesting of potatoes has been very difficult because of the rains in production zones like Nyanga with roads also becoming impassable for trucks to ferry harvested produce to the market, added Dr Dhewa.

Trading on most markets was subdued last week due to the rainfall activities with mud and the absence of suitable trading infrastructure compounding the situation.

Dr Dhewa said although potato supplies at Mbare Market had improved to over 500 tonnes yesterday, high prices coupled with limited consumer buying power had resulted in some markets around Harare failing to trade.

An analyst who requested anonymity said the high prices were not benefitting farmers but cartels of middlemen/transporters capitalising on the false shortages to profiteer.

Changes in consumption patterns have seen most families shifting from being maize centric to consuming potatoes, rice and other wheat products such as macaroni.

Government declared potatoes a strategic crop to enhance food security at household and national level and instituted a number of measures, chief among them a ban on table potato imports since 2010.

This was a deliberate measure with the objective of protecting the local potato farmers from unfair competition from cheap potato imports from neighbouring countries.

Government’s call for import substitution through local production has resulted in 100 percent increase in homegrown table potato cultivation as farmers collaborate with agro-processors through off take arrangements for enhanced production, market access and sustainability.

The country no longer imports table potatoes, but only potato seed to augment local production, which is also increasing as more farmers are being contracted for seed production by Kutsaga and other local seed producers.