LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-Malawi will next week host the 12th Africa Potato Association (APA) Triennial Conference in Lilongwe from June 26 to July 1, 2022 on the theme, “Harnessing potato and sweet potato innovations for resilient and healthier agri-food systems”.

Dr Makumba upbeat ahead of APA conference

The conference hosts agricultural experts, academics, farmers and stakeholders in the value chain from all over Africa and other parts of the world.

APA chairperson Dr. Wilkinson Makumba who is also Director of the Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) told The Maravi Post that the conference has been organized in partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, the International Potato Centre (CIP) and other partners.

The proposed conference subthemes include breeding and genetic innovations for increased resilience, production and nutrition, innovative approaches for building sustainable seed systems and crop intensification and diversification in the context of resilient agri-food systems.

When asked what APA is significant to Malawi, Dr Makumba says; ” APA is an association of different stakeholders in the potato and sweet potato value chains across Africa. Its main aim is to foster knowledge exchange among players with the sub-Saharan Africa and also tap from those outside Africa.

“The APA Conference offers Malawi a chance to showcase the strides it has been made in the two value chains to the outside world. Potato and sweet potato are now both food and cash crops to many Malawians in the producing regions”.

On the conference’s intended to achieve, Dr Makumba adds, “The conference will look at strides made in the potato and sweet value chain, both in research and development. This entails focusing on areas such as nutrition, variety development, seed systems and market linkages and interventions. This will provide players with learning experiences and they will exchange knowledge on their different areas of expertise”.

Below is how The Maravi Post caught up with Dr. Makumba more on the APA conference;

EXCERPTS

What motivated the staging of the conference in Malawi?

Malawi has made tremendous development in potato and sweet potato. The conference wouldn’t come at any other opportune time other than now, so people could appreciate what different partners have achieved.

Malawi and much of Africa face perennial food shortages as well as nutritional challenges; how important are potatoes and sweet potations to Africa’s failing dietary needs?

In most countries they regard maize as their staple; despite the fact that they have surplus potato and sweet potato with enhanced nutrition. People have to diversify their diets and include the potato and sweet potato diet to remain resilient to such shocks.

How sustainable are potatoes as cash crops in a bid to replace traditional cash crops in Africa’s agro-economy?

Potato is one resilient crop as it has a short growing period, such that it matures early enough and gives the farmers both income and food during the lean period. The ever-growing demand for the crop in the region is an opportunity for the crop to act as substitute to the traditional cash crops that are facing a lot of challenges

Why do most African countries fail to grow potatoes and sweet potatoes on a large scale? How can this be reversed?

It’s the mindset. People take potato as a rich man’s crops and leave it to commercial farmers. However, even smallholder farmers can benefit from growing the crop on a small piece of land as it produces more on a small piece of land

Despite continuous campaigns, there seems to be a low uptake of a potato-based diet in Africa. What could the factors be?

As the theme of the conference suggests, ‘Harnessing potato and sweet potato innovations for resilient and healthier agri-food systems’, the idea is to tell the nation and the world the contributions of potato and sweet potato to more reliant and healthier agri-food systems. Despite the low uptake, people have to be made aware of the health as well as cash benefits the crops offer to the region

Both in the long and short term, climate change and emerging diseases have been a threat to crops. Is there a plan in place to ensure that the crops/breeds maintain their resilience over time?

As researchers, we have already started breeding for climate change effects. For example, in Malawi we have just released potato varieties that mature early enough (70 days) and drought tolerant such that they can escape mid-season droughts and also be grown in non-traditional areas that haven’t been heavily infested by diseases such as late blight and potato viruses.

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