The Dutch government and a group of companies active in the potato industry are set to build a Center for the development of the Potato Industry in the southern Tanzanian town of Mbeya. Senior Government officials signed a manifesto to begin the project during the Tanzania Agribusiness Event in The Hague on May 31st.
The Netherlands is the world leader in the potato sector, with Dutch seed potatoes accounting for 60% of worldwide potato production. While over 500 different varieties of potato are grown in The Netherlands, in Tanzania only four varieties are used. “Potatoes are widely consumed in Tanzania, but the demand outstrips the supply by far,” said Mathew Mtigumwe, Permanent Secretary at the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture during the event, which was organized by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl), The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Netherlands-African Business Council (NABC).
Tanzanian farmers often harvest no more that 7- 8 tons per hectare, well below the 30 tons that could be reached with high-quality seed-potatoes and improved farming techniques. “This Center can have a great impact on research and training. With this great initiative, the potato business can finally take off,” Mr. Mtigumwe said.
A win-win situation
The new potato Center will be co-financed by the Dutch ministry of Economic affairs (USD 4 million) and a group of nine companies that are active in the potato industry. Some of them are seed-potato growers whilst others supply cool stores or crop protection. “This is an example of the new Dutch approach: business development instead of aid,” said Frank Wijnands of Wageningen University & Research. Mr. Wijnands has, together with Ingrid Korving of the ministry of Economic Affairs, been instrumental in the creation of the potato Center.
“This is a win-win situation,” explained Mr. Wijnands. “By contributing to the potato Center, the companies that are the ‘founding fathers’ of the Center stand a better chance of entering the Tanzanian market. Meanwhile, the Center will support the development of the Tanzanian potato value chain by demonstrating and showcasing new approaches, training of professionals and supporting Tanzanian companies. In this way, Tanzanian potato growers can find their way into the technology of boosting the productivity of the potato crop. If investing in that will double or triple their production, they’ll certainly see the benefits,” Mr. Wijnands said.
Enthusiasm amongst the Private Sector
Jan Willem Sepers of Europlant is one of the co-investors of the potato Center. “Tanzania is a politically stable country and some of the areas are very suitable for potatoes,” Mr. Sepers said. Our seed potato company already distributes 125 different potato varieties around the world. In Tanzania we now have two listed varieties. If this value chain in Tanzania professionalizes, there will be more demand for other varieties. With its growing middle class and access to neighboring countries, it is important to be in Tanzania.”
Remko Kruithof of Hanse Staalbouw is also a partner in the potato Center. “Tanzania has two potato seasons per year, and then the market gets flooded. Therefore, prices are low. We recently designed cool-stores for potato growers in Kenya that enable the farmers to preserve the potatoes much longer, so they can sell them throughout the year, also at times when prices are higher. By joining this initiative, we hope to see a market develop in Tanzania as well,” Mr. Kruithof said.
The construction of the physical Center in the southern town of Mbeya has been planned for later this year. The activities, however, will start after summer, according to Mr. Wijnands, who is also the project manager of the Center. “We are going to support every phase of the potato value chain from production and storage to processing to marketing. Producing more potatoes will bring a lot of extra money into the rural economy.”
Mathew Mtigumwe of the Ministry of Agriculture in Tanzania is also eying a quick process. When asked what changes he expects to see over the next five years, he answered: “Five years? In fact, we hope that within one year things will change. In southern Tanzania there is very little commercial potato growth, but it will soon rise.”
Arne Doornebal. June 2017