Mtanga Farms Limited (MFL), in partnership with the Tanzanian government, has announced the registration of four new potato varieties – the first to be released in Tanzania in 30 years. MFL, a commercial farming operation in the southern highlands of Tanzania – rehabilitated in partnership with Thirty Degrees East, a Mauritian investment company, through impact investments by UK-based Lion’s Head Global Partners, U.S.-based Calvert Foundation, Nigerian investment firm Heirs Holdings and its philanthropic arm, The Tony Elumelu Foundation – will multiply and sell these seed potatoes to local farmers. With access to clean seed material, Tanzanian farmers for whom potatoes are a major cash and nutrient source will be able to increase yields by up to three times, thereby creating a pathway out of poverty for a large number of farmers.
Despite its considerable attraction to African food systems and potential contribution to food sufficiency, potato production in Tanzania has remained inefficient and received limited attention from commercial farmers. One of the key issues holding back productivity is the lack of access for local farmers to clean certified seed potatoes caused by the lack of registered potato varieties in Tanzania – a pre-condition for any farmer to produce certified seed. Local farmers today achieve average yields of 5-7 tonnes per hectare. With clean seed material smallholders have proven to achieve 15-20 tonnes per hectare. Simply providing farmers with clean seed potatoes therefore can increase incomes by a factor of three to four times.
Thirty Degrees East, alongside Lions Head Global Partners, re-established MFL in 2009. MFL attracted further investment from the Heirs Holdings Group – acting through Heirs Holdings and The Tony Elumelu Foundation – and the Calvert Foundation. MFL operates on 3,000 hectares of land under a long-term lease and focuses on the protein value chain as well as the production of high value seeds. Approximately 18 months ago, MFL set out to establish a seed potato multiplication business to service smallholder farmers in Tanzania. To accomplish this goal, the company had to pursue a complex process with multiple partners to register new potato varieties in Tanzania – something that had not been done since the 1980s.
Applying recently enacted East African Community (EAC) regulations that permit the use of trial data from one EAC country for the variety registration in another member country, MFL was able to shorten the approval process from more than three years to just over fourteen months. At the end of March this year, the Tanzanian authorities approved the release of four new potato varieties in the country. MFL is now ready to start servicing over 150,000 farmers with certified clean seed potatoes, kick-starting the long overdue transformation of the potato sector in Tanzania.
Clemens Calice of Lion’s Head Global Partners said: “This successful public/private partnership demonstrates the Tanzanian government’s commitment to farmers’ welfare and its support of the private sector. With the registration of these new potato varieties, the government has sent a message to Tanzania’s agriculture sector that it is serious about improving inputs and systems.”
Alan Mayers from Thirty Degrees East said: “An efficient potato sector can be a pathway out of poverty for a large number of farmers. The availability of these new potato varieties can immediately address some of the key developmental challenges in Tanzania, namely those of raising smallholder income and providing the poorest communities with access to higher nutritional foodstuff.”
Michael Grossman, Portfolio Manager for International Investments at Calvert Foundation, said: “The most powerful advertisements for African agriculture are success stories that encourage further investment in the sector. We are already seeing evidence of this. For example, the Syngenta Foundation, working with commercial producers such as MFL, is setting up a consulting and advisory business called Seeds2B that will work with the private sector and public seed systems to make it easier to introduce new seed varieties – and therefore spur agricultural and economic development – in Africa.”
Sam Nwanze, Chief Investment Officer of Heirs Holdings, said: “We are very excited about this development in Tanzania. This is the case of a government making efforts to create an enabling operating environment, and the private sector responding appropriately. These new potato varieties will go a long way in impacting the lives of smallholder farmers in the country, but will also be a viable and sustainable business.”