ZIMBABWE – The Government of Zimbabwe in conjunction with Kutsaga Research Station has embarked on a seed potato multiplication programme in a bid to eradicate aphid-transmitted potato viruses that cause severe yield reduction and loss of tuber quality in potatoes.

Tobacco Research Board (TRB) Head Liaison, Dr Dzingai Rukuni said this programme will help reduce the critical shortage of the potato seed, which has resulted in the country importing 60 percent of its requirements, following the reduced production of seed from the Nyanga quarantine area.

This dovetails with what the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Dr John Bhasera, recently said when he hinted that Government policy remained averse to the importation of potato, hence the need to look inwards through local production.

Dr Bhasera said that the Government has since put in place the Potato Value Chain Financing Facility (PVCFF) under AFC Holdings to add the icing to the land reform programme, according to The Herald.

“Government seeks to advance import substitution and local value creation to curtail the exportation of container loads of jobs with this PVCFF set to be replicated for all other value chains,” he said at the PVCFF launch.

Zimbabwe Potato Micro-Propagation Association (ZPMA) Business Development and Marketing Manager, Mrs. Mavis Nyakachiranje also added that ZPMA had heeded the Government’s import substitution call by gathering seed potato growers at  a farm for a look and learn field day.

She highlighted that ZPMA’s mandate was the multiplication of seed potato for the country to arrest farmers’ desire to import seed potato from neighbouring countries like South Africa and expend on foreign currency.

Department of Research and Specialist Services seed technologist, Mrs. Monica Mutsa Zana also concurred saying the seed multiplication programme would curtail the importation of diseases into the country.

Her sentiments echoed what TRB Executive Director Business Development and Marketing, Mr. Oswell Mharapara, once said when he stressed that,

“by importing potato seeds, we are also importing diseases. This is mainly because we are not aware of the generation of the potato seed we are buying. So, we have to start with authentic material, which is cleaned before multiplication.”

Dr Rukuni further urged farmers not to plant cheap potato seeds that have not been tested as well as to practice good crop rotations to avoid aphid problem as grading system is a result of viral load.

He also highlighted that “a state-of-the-art laboratory and purpose-built green-house hardening facilities were in place for the commercial production of clean disease- free potato plantlets using tissue culture technology into mini tubers.

These are later transferred to the field as generation one (G1) to generation four (G4) for the production of table potatoes.

Since viruses are not discernible with a naked eye, a G1 (pre-basic) crop can be downgraded to G4 due to heavy infestation.

The TRB, under the auspices of the ZPMA, is a designated seed potato certifying agent mandated to produce and market the product. It carries out most of its research at Kutsava Research Station, an agricultural research institute which dates from 1954 and is attached to the Ministry of Agriculture.

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