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2019-10-08 10:19:38

Innovative solutions to post-harvest losses: My reflections from the 11th Triennial African Potato Association Conference

I am Henriette Aimee Mutangampundu, A young professional social media reporter of YEAN/YPARD social media reporting program. I was deployed together with other five young professionals to interact and live tweet the 11th Triennial African Potato Association Conference that reached 2.1 million impressions on social media. The five-day summit enabled me to learn further innovative solutions to postharvest management, processing and marketing system of potatoes and sweet potatoes. The science says that postharvest loss is a degradation in both quality and quantity of food production from harvest to consumption. The Post-harvest loss management strategy of the African Union mentions that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. The total quantitative food loss in sub-Saharan Africa has been estimated at 100 million metric tons per year. 

Potatoes and sweet potatoes (Roots and tubers) are more perishable than grains; this is related to their higher moisture content and it affects the most rural farmers in developing countries. Having grown up in a community where potatoes and sweet potatoes are among the key source of family cash income. I further learnt from the Honorable Minister of Agriculture of Rwanda Dr.Gerardine Mukeshimana that sweet potatoes alone contribute to 21.6% of the total national requirements in terms of calories. 

The Government of Rwanda has aggressively invested in post-harvest facilities, with 101 fully functional potato collection centers in major potato producing areas and additional investments are being made in collaboration with the private sector and other partners to increase capacity. 

Why is it important to innovate around these crops in terms of managing the post harvest, technologies and marketing systems? 

Data from the Rwanda Ministry of agriculture mentions that 70% of the Rwandan population is engaged in the agricultural sector, Potato and sweet potato cover respectively 3.9% and 5.2% of Rwanda's total cultivated area, the country has an annual consumption of 125kg for potato and 145 kg for sweet potato per person, Rwanda is the 3rd largest consumer of sweet potato in Africa and 6th largest potato producer in Africa. 

CIP Rwanda and its partners gave me another excellent opportunity to tour the potato and sweet potato value chains where together with experts and delegates, I explored the progress in the industry ranging from mechanization, processing and vine multiplication. 

Throughout my experience as a non-experienced young professional from a different educational background, I learned that there is always a wealth created when you are given proper knowledge, proper exposure and proper tools. I did not believe of a business in vine multiplications, young entrepreneurs are investing in sweet potato value chain like CARL Group with VITA Bread that is currently competitive on Rwanda market as well as the government willing and support to transform the potato and sweet potato value chain for higher end markets. 

However, there is a need to keep reducing the losses of potato and sweet potato; we need proven technology adopted by smallholder farmers. These are modern technology in harvesting, handling, packing, transportation, storage and processing. We need to attract more youth and women to lead the processing and commercialization of potato and sweet potato products in different formats. 

Everyone can have a stake! I may not become a potato farmer nor a processor but I can become a professional social media reporter for potato farmers and actors as a result of being exposed to this value chain during the 11th Triennial African Potato Association Conference held in Kigali from 25th to 29th August 2019. I commend YEAN and YPARD Rwanda initiative for young professionals social media reporters to have partnered with the International Potato Center (CIP).

 Blog Author: Henriette Aimee Mutangampundu 

Photo Credits: African Potato Association

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