Introduction

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 

International business environment

  • World potato production was estimated at 376 million tonnes in 2021 (FAOSTAT, 2023 cited by BFAP 2023).
    China (25.0% of world production), India (14.4%), Ukraine (5.6%), the United States (4.9%) and Russia (4.8%) were the top potato producers in 2021 (FAOSTAT, 2023 cited by BFAP 2023).

Further reference:

  • 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

  • Exports only account for around 7.5% of the local crop (BFAP, 2023).
  • Potato exports in 2021/22 went mostly to Africa (53%) and the Middle East (47%) (FPEF, 2023).
  • 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). There are limitations though, since potatoes once harvested are “highly perishable” and are thus are not a good export crop (BFAP, 2023).
The Southern African Grain Laboratory

Local business environment

  • The value of the primary potato industry amounted to about R8 billion and the secondary industry about R25 billion (Potatoes SA, 2022), with some 45 000 people finding employment as permanent and seasonal labourers (Potatoes SA, 2021).The area planted to potato has remained relatively constant at an average 52 000 hectares over the past decade (BFAP, 2023).
  • 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 (some 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.
  • Approximately 70% of potatoes are consumed fresh, procured either in the formal or informal market, with the balance processed into potato chips and crisps.
  • Load shedding and the high input cost structure for this sector mean that there is “little room for error” (BFAP, 2023).

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

Further reference:

  • 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 farming: Award-winning farmer, Zama Buthelezi, shows us how (video from Farmer's Weekly, 2018)

For the newcomer

Find grower guides and other information under the “Websites and publications” heading.

National strategy and government contact

  • 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.

 

Role players

Companies

Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order here. Disclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Community, NGO and NPO Service Providers
PROKON (Produk Kontrole) www.prokonsa.co.za Prokon renders 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.
KORKOM http://korkom.co.za “Correct and timely information through good communication”
Potato Certification Service (PCS) https://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.

Further reference:

Training

  • Agricultural Colleges provide courses in vegetable production. Potato production is included, or can be a separate course all on its own.
  • 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.

Research

  • 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.

Exporters

  • The annual Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (FPEF) directory gives details of companies that export potatoes. Find it at https://fpef.co.za.

 

 

Websites and publications

CHIPS is a magazine targeted specifically at the potato industry. This can be read at www.potatoes.co.za/chips-online/.

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.
  • Best practice for the handling of seed potatoes
  • Potato guidelines

Visit www.potatonation.co.za, a campaign by Potatoes South Africa.

Find the Info Paks on potato production at www.dalrrd.gov.za. Also on the DALRRD website, check whether publishing of the annual Potato Market Chain Value Profile has resumed.

CD Roms from the ARC-PHP (Plant Health and Protection)  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.

The AgriSETA Assessment Guide Primary Agriculture “Monitor the establishment of a crop” includes potato tubers. Another relevant learner guide is “Harvesting agricultural crops”. Find these and other material at www.agriseta.co.za.

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.

 

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