The potato (solanum tuberosum) is recognised as an important foodstuff worldwide and is seen as a key component in the worldwide fight against hunger and malnutrition and the creation of food security. Potatoes are packed with vitamin B3, B5, B6, C and fibre. They are ranked after rice, wheat and maize as the world’s fourth largest food crop. (Some sources like the International Potato Centre – see next heading – rank potatoes third, after rice and wheat).
In addition to being eaten as a vegetable by humans, potatoes can be used as feed for livestock. The domestic processing sector uses potatoes for three processed products i.e. crisps, frozen and fresh French fries. Potato starch is used in the food industry as a thickener and binder of soups and sauces, and elsewhere as an adhesive and for the manufacturing of papers and boards. It holds potential as a base for biodegradable packaging too. Potatoes can also be used to brew alcoholic beverages like vodka.
Potatoes can also be used, of course, as seed tubers for growing the next season’s crop.
Source: Potatoes South Africa (adapted) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato
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International business environment
- World potato production was estimated at 370 million tonnes in 2019 (FAOSTAT, 2021)
- China (25% of world production), India (14%), the Russian Federation (6%), Ukraine (5%) and the United States (5%) were the top potato producers and consumers in 2019 (BFAP, 2021).
- With 2.7 million tonnes of potatoes produced in 2019, South Africa contributes only 1% of global potato production (BFAP, 2021).
- www.cipotato.org – website of the International Potato Center (CIP). CIP Publications include a wide range of literature on potatoes, sweet potatoes, andean roots and tubers, potato diseases, true potato seed, and much more. English and Spanish titles available.
- www.potatopro.com – “The resource for the global potato industry”
- Find the latest Overview Global Potato Market at www.freshplaza.com.
South Africa: imports and exports
- A total of 1 928 632 kg of potatoes was exported in 2019/2020, mostly to Africa (48%), the Middles East (24%) and the Indian Ocean Islands (FPEF 2021).
- The annual Food Trade SA publication is a good source of export statistics for fresh produce, including potatoes. Find it at https://ppecb.com/documents.
- Favourable market access to other African countries under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) would expand the demand for South African potatoes (BFAP, 2021).
Local business environment
- The value of the primary potato industry amounted to about R7.5 billion and the secondary industry about R26 billion, with some 45 000 people finding employment as permanent and seasonal labourers (Potatoes SA, 2021).
- The bulk of potatoes are grown in Limpopo, the Western Free State, the Sandveld (Western Cape), and the Eastern Free State. Except for the Eastern Free State, most potato production (85%) happens under irrigation.
- In terms of hectares the Eastern Free State is the largest production area. The most potatoes are produced in Limpopo because they are primarily produced under irrigation.
- The area planted to potato has remained relatively constant at an average 52 000 hectares over the past decade, with annual yield improvements of 2.2% on average. Producers increasingly rely on scale to enable technological gains and mitigate persistent production cost increases. Mechanisation has increased in recent years, the sector is still highly labour intensive and contributes significantly to employment in agriculture (BFAP, 2021).
- Approximately 70% of potatoes are consumed fresh, procured either in the formal or informal market, with the balance processed into potato chips and crisps. COVID-19 and the lockdown affected the various marketing channels differently. The fresh formal value chain remained operational, and arguably even benefitting from strong demand due to increased home-cooking through the lockdown. Distribution in the informal value chains was disrupted as lockdown restrictions affected hawkers who typically buy products at fresh produce markets (BFAP, 2021).
The potato crop is distributed as follows:
- Formal market (Fruit & Veg City, Pick ‘n Pay etc).
- Informal market (informal traders who buy 10kg pockets and repackage them for sale in smaller quantities).
- Processing (McCain Foods, Simba, etc).
- Seed for the next season’s crop.
- Export – South Africa is not a major exporter of potatoes. Exports go mainly to neighbouring countries.
Source: Potatoes South Africa
- Find statistics and other information relevant to this heading at www.potatoes.co.za.
- The annual Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline Agricultural Outlook includes a discussion on potatoes. Find the document at www.bfap.co.za.
- Check whether the Directorate Marketing at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has resumed publishing the annual A Profile of the South African Potato Market Value Chain which used to provide a useful overview of this sector.
- Potato producers market more than 60% of their yields at national fresh produce markets (PSA, 2020). How efficiently are you transporting your potatoes to the market? Find the latest Transport Cost Model on the PSA website.
Potato farming: Award-winning farmer, Zama Buthelezi, shows us how (video from Farmer's Weekly, 2018)
National strategy and government contact
Find the “Relevant legislation” option at www.potatoes.co.za.
“… [The] relative affordability of potatoes to large parts of the population can be improved significantly through investment into infrastructure and improved maintenance of [the] fresh produce markets. This will enable potatoes to be delivered more competitively by reducing transaction costs in the value chain” (BFAP, 2021).
- Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) www.dalrrd.gov.za Find details of relevant Directorates like Directorate: Plant Health and Directorate: Plant Production on the website.
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za Statutory levies administered by the NAMC go to the Potato Industry Development Trust.
- Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) www.ppecb.com
- Plantovita plays the important role of detecting and identifying any harmful diseases that threaten the potato sector. Read about Plantovita at www.plantovita.co.za.
- Product Control for Agriculture (Prokon) www.prokonsa.co.za Prokon is authorised by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) to apply the official requirements applicable to the grading, marking and packing of potatoes.
Potatoes South Africa (PSA) www.potatoes.co.za PSA is the representative industry organisation and plays a leadership role in sustainable potato production in South Africa. PSA could be regarded as the engine room of the industry and through its core businesses PSA involves the full spectrum of activities and role players in the potato industry on its committees and forums. Detailed information on these core businesses can be obtained from the PSA website.
Potato Certification Service (PCS) www.potatocertification.co.za PCS is responsible for the certification of seed potatoes with a phyto-sanitary status – in respect of diseases and pests – that falls within the predetermined norms and which are true to type. The South African Potato Certification Scheme which is promulgated under the Plant Improvement Act, 1976 (Act No. 53 of 1976), requires that each generation of seed potatoes must comply with quality standards. To ensure the sustainability of seed production in South Africa, the Scheme is based on disease-free material as base material (zero tolerance). Find details on the website of SAMPRO (South African Mini Tuber Producers), NUMPRO (Nuclear Material Producers), the Seed Potato Grower’s Forum and the Seed Potato Traders’ Forum.
Product Control for Agriculture (Prokon) www.prokonsa.co.za Prokon is contracted by PSA Prokon to render comprehensive and cost effective quality assurance, product management and grading services to the potato industry. It also provides pack house training on farms to ensure better quality produce being delivered to the fresh produce and markets and other outlets.
Training and research
- Agricultural Colleges provide courses in vegetable production. Potato production is included, or can be a separate course all on its own.
- AgriSETA-accredited trainers (see www.agriseta.co.za).
- Read about farm based training, internships and workplace experience, and more at www.potatoes.co.za.
In addition to the training provided to developing potato producers, PSA also manages the Potato Industry Development Trust Bursary Scheme which makes bursaries available to deserving students for diploma, undergraduate and post graduate studies related to the potato industry.
- Agrimark Trends https://amtrends.co.za
- ARC-VOP (Vegetable and Ornamental Plant) Tel: 012 841 9861 ajoubert [at] arc.agric.za
- Universities and Agricultural Colleges/Provincial Departments of Agriculture do research and training in potatoes. Find the list of agricultural colleges and universities on the “Agricultural education and training” page.
- Read about calls for research, potato industry research strategy, and research management at www.potatoes.co.za.
- Crown Bag www.crownbag.co.za
- Nampak Sack www.nampak.com
- Sack Force www.sackforce.co.za
- Sacks Packaging http://sackspackaging.co.za
- Taurus Packaging http://tauruspackaging.co.za
The annual Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (FPEF) directory also gives details of companies that export potatoes. Find it at www.fpef.co.za.
- Dormas www.dormas.co.za
- Goldpack www.goldpack.co.za
- Oos Kaap Trekkers www.ooskaaptrekkers.co.za
- RY Agriculture www.ryagri.com
- TopCrop www.topcrop.co.za
- Turnerland Manufacturing www.turnerland.co.za
- Uniekum Agricultural Machinery www.uniekum.co.za
- AVI www.avi.co.za (Willards)
- Frimax www.frimax.co.za
- Golden Harvest www.goldenharvest.co.za
- Kavalier Foods 011 873 2113
- L & C Messaris www.messaris.co.za
- McCain South Africa www.mccain.co.za
- Poco Foods 017 647 1081
- Simba www.simba.co.za
Mini Tuber Producers and seed potato suppliers
- Advanced Potato Propagation www.fpd.co.za
- FPD Holdings www.fpd.co.za
- GWK Ltd www.gwk.co.za
- JH Laubscher Broers 027 412 2442
- Kaap Agri www.kaapagri.co.za
- Potato Seed Production http://potatoseed.co.za
- Potatoes Africa http://potatoesafrica.co.za
- Rascal Seed Research Laboratories 072 628 0964 www.minitubers.co.za
- RSA Seeds www.rsaseeds.co.za
- Wes Vrystaat Landbou Dienste 051 853 2075 / 1191
Websites and publications
www.potatoes.co.za is definitely a first stop! It has back ground, business and network information. Also find publications that can be downloaded e.g. Best practice for the handling of seed potatoes, Potato guidelines and CHIPS articles. CHIPS is a magazine targeted specifically at the potato industry. This too can be read on the Potatoes South Africa website.
Contact Potatoes South Africa for the following:
- The Potato Industry Report is published annually and provides an overview on the activities of Potatoes South Africa, Potato Certification Service, Prokon and Potato Laboratory Services.
- The Potato Production Quick Reference Guide was published to serve as a handy guide for small scale potato producers. It is available in English, Zulu and Sotho from Potatoes South Africa free of charge.
- The Guide to Potato Production in South Africa (also in Afrikaans: Handleiding vir aartappelproduksie in Suid-Afrika) constitutes 173 pages of useful information for farmers, students and field officers.
Visit www.potatonation.co.za, a campaign by Potatoes South Africa.
Find the Info Paks on potato production under “Resource Centre” at www.dalrrd.gov.za. Also on the DALRRD website, on the Directorate Marketing pages, check whether publishing of the annual Potato Market Chain Value Profile has resumed.
CD Roms from the ARC-PPR (Plant Protection Research) include: (i) Crop Pests, Vol. 3: Potatoes And Other Vegetables (also available as a book) (ii) Medically Important Spiders And Scorpions Of Southern Africa. Write to booksales [at] arc.agric.za or infopri [at] arc.agric.za.
The ARC-Agricultural Engineering (ARC-AE) has a publication Agro-processing of Root Crops (Asparagus, beetroot, carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, sweet potato). Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] arc.agric.za for a copy.
Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the potato industry (March 2017) on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmMvPA2yt7o
A number of leaflets are available from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, including “Potato production for small-scale farmers”. Find these at www.kzndard.gov.za.
Find the “Vegetables” option at https://wikifarmer.com.
- Thukwana N. 2021, October 27. “SA potato prices have doubled over the past year”. Business Insider. Available at www.businessinsider.co.za/sa-potato-prices-have-doubled-over-the-past-year-2021-10
- Phillips L. 2021, August 10. “Precision farming pays off for KZN potato producer”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/precision-farming-pays-off-for-kzn-potato-producer/
- Jansen C. 2021, May 12. “South African potato consumption doubles in 10 years”. FreshPlaza. Available at www.freshplaza.com/article/9320672/south-african-potato-consumption-doubles-in-10-years/
- Staff Reporter. 2020, December 3. “Food security is Khakhu Mutheiwana’s business”. The Star. Available at www.iol.co.za/the-star/news/food-security-is-khakhu-mutheiwanas-business-a2361abc-cb6a-4d02-ba02-339fb2182f8a
- Reporter. 2020, September 8. “Urgent Action Needed To Protect SA’s Potato Industry”. iAfrica. Available at https://iafrica.com/urgent-action-needed-to-protect-sas-potato-industry/
- Ortiz D. 2020, March 3. “How the humble potato changed the world”. BBC Travel. Available at www.bbc.com/travel/story/20200302-the-true-origins-of-the-humble-potato
- Collyns D. 2019, November 29. “How Peru’s potato museum could stave off world food crisis”. The Guardian. Available at www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/29/how-perus-potato-museum-could-stave-off-world-food-crisis
- Jansen C. 2019, October 4. SA potato industry ready to broaden its horizons. Fresh Plaza. Available at www.freshplaza.com/article/9150475/sa-potato-industry-ready-to-broaden-its-horizons/
- Hartebeest, C. 2019, May 22. “Potatoes SA programme gives emerging farmers a boost”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/between-the-headlines-potatoes-sa-program-gives-emerging-farmers-a-boost/
- Van der Merwe, J. 2018, July 11. “Groot potensiaal vir aartappelproduksie in Afrika”. Landbouweekblad. Available at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Nuus/groot-potensiaal-vir-aartappelproduksie-in-afrika-20180711
- Tribhuvan, S. 2018, January 12. “Global potato processing market to surpass $3,500m by 2025”. Bizcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/1/641/172184.html
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