Zimbabwe: ‘Take Measures to Eradicate Aphids in Potato’

THE Government’s import substitution push may easily stall if serious measures are not taken 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 during a potato field day at Ndudzo Farm in Nyabira while addressing seed potato growers gathered for the event that was running under the theme – “Maximising economic value” recently.

Dr Rukuni observed that the Government in conjunction with Kutsaga Research Station (TRB) had embarked on a seed potato multiplication programme from mini-tubers to commercial seed potato since 2019.

Dr Rukuni further urged farmers not to plant cheap seed potato that has not been tested as well as to practice good crop rotations to avoid aphid problem as grading system is a result of viral load. As viruses are not discernible with a naked eye, a G1 (pre-basic) crops can be downgraded to G4 due to heavy infestation.

The TRB, under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Potato Micro-Propagation Association (ZPMA), is a designated seed potato certifying agent mandated to produce and market the product.

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

ZPMA has contracted seed potato growers in suitable areas to assist in the seed multiplication programme with Mr Roy Ndudzo being one of such farmers.

This programme will help reduce the critical shortage of the seed potato, which has resulted in the country importing 60 percent of its requirements following the reduced production of seed from the Nyanga quarantine area, added Dr Rukuni.

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.

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, said Dr Bhasera.

“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,” added DrBhasera at the PVCFF launch.

Zimbabwe Potato Micro-Propagation Association (ZPMA) business development and marketing manager, Mrs Mavis Mavis Nyakachiranje also added ZPMA had heeded the Government’s import substitution call by gathering seed potato growers at Mr Ndudzo’s 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 seed potato, we are also importing diseases. This is mainly because we are not aware of the generation of the seed potato we are buying. So, we have to start with authentic material, which is cleaned before multiplication.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Mutsa also emphasised that the department’s role was not to punish the farmers but to authenticate the seed variety and hectarage as well as proffer advice on crop rotations especially against solanaceous species such as tomato, paprika, eggplant, tobacco and many others. The field has to be isolated from other crops.

Agritex’s seed services department is also involved in the administration of the Seeds Act [Chapter 19:13], Seeds Regulations and Seeds (Certification Scheme) Notice 2000, and Plant Breeders’ Act [Chapter 18:16], which governs the production, processing, labelling and marketing of certified seed in Zimbabwe.

She also added that they do seed potato inspections at three levels – at flowering, towards harvesting and from field to warehouse.

This legal mechanism was therefore put in place with the main objective of promoting ‘production and use’ of high-quality seed of proven performance for the protection of farmers.

The seed services department also conducts soil and seed testing, quality control, field inspections, recognition of varieties and variety protection, purity, germination and moisture tests on agricultural, vegetable, tree and flower seed.

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