An initiative between Eastern Cape state entities and Potato SA is set to turn former subsistence farmers into commercial potato farmers.
The farmers in the OR Tambo (ORT) District, which includes Mthatha, Mqanduli and Ngqeleni, have multiplied their production volumes since the start of the mentorship and development programme three years ago.
Provincial development agency Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) injected R3.5 million into the initiative – R500 000 for each of the seven co-operatives, while the Ntinga OR Tambo Development Agency, Kei Fresh Produce Market and Potato SA focused on training and market support to ensure the farmers could deliver a quality product.
The farmers were also trained in bookkeeping with the help of the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Mlungisi Ndobeni, one of the producers, said the seven co-ops started growing potatoes on a subsistence basis without much knowledge of the standards required in the retail sector.
“Potato SA taught us how to produce quality potatoes. They assessed potatoes from each of the nine areas in the OR Tambo District and seven of those areas passed the trials and were assisted in planting one hectare each. Then ECDC contributed funding and that took us to 28 hectares each so we have a total of four hectares.
He said their ultimate goal is to become commercial farmers with agro-processing facilities for potato chips. Ntinga spokesperson Zukile Ncapayi said the development agency’s aim is to support farmers to produce properly graded produce that can be packaged and sold via formal distribution channels.
“A survey we did in 2008 found that potatoes were the number one vegetable in terms of sales in ORT, so we came up with interventions to develop local farmers. We assisted with implements and training in proper grading, so that they
could produce at a semi-commercial level,” said Ncapayi.
Ntinga also supplied a potato washing machine which grades potatoes according to size and quality. This helps local farmers become more competitive in terms of market standards and correct pricing.