جنوری 1, 2015

Potato emerges as main cash crop in #Chitral, other valleys

 

During the last two decades potato has emerged as the main cash crop of the high mountain region including Chitral and several other valleys. In Gobor and Golain valleys of Chitral most of the farmers rely solely on this crop to make a living. 


Inter-co-operation, a Pakistan-based subsidiary of an international development foundation based in Switzerland is currently helping farmers in a number of valleys in Chitral to improve potato cultivation. Inter-co-operation has initiated a new project namely "Evolution of Potato Varieties" to educate and facilitate the potato growers in better cultivation techniques. 

This project is jointly ventured by the Livelihood Programme Hindukush and Agricultural Research Station (ARS) Chitral. The Livelihoods Programme Hindukush (LPH) is a Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) funded project since 2012. The LPH has been providing technical assistance to farmers for producing seed potato and production and marketing of potato in collaboration with the ARS Chitral. Initially, farmers would produce potato for their domestic consumption in small quantities, but with the emerging needs they opted for its commercial production. 

Owing to the lack of modern knowledge, they grow potato with conventional methods and there is a great gap between standard agricultural practices and their own obsolete methods. The farmer would apply almost double dose of Nitrate and Phosphate Fertilizers when compared to the recommended doses and used three to four time-higher quantity of seed than the recommended rate. Application of inputs in large quantities was an unnecessary financial burden on the farmers and a totally miscalculated risk mitigation option. Similarly, sowing method and irrigation were also not standard, which lead to the soil degradation and low yields. 

The LPH building on previous experiences of farmers and other development agencies and supported by ARS conducted potato varietals trials on scientific basis. The purpose of the trials was to evaluate performance of four outstanding potato varieties with standard agricultural practices. 

The trials were established at different locations of Gobor and Golain valleys. The four high yielding varieties namely, Roko, Paramount, Asterix and Sante were selected for testing after consultation with ARS experts and others. The varietals quality control was provided by the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department. Farmers were fully involved in these trials with the aim to train them on potato cultivation. The growers were educated in potato production technology, storage and seed production and certification. 

According to the results of the trials, the Paramount potato variety proved to be the highest yielding variety in Gobor valley followed by Asterix, Roko and Sante. The Paramount produced the highest number of tubers per plant at all locations followed by the Asterix. The overall results suggested that Paramount and Asterix varieties should be promoted in this area as these varieties can earn an outstanding income for farmers when compared to Roko and other local varieties. The result of the trials showed that lower Chitral is not as suitable for potato as high altitudes. The economic returns of producing potato even in these areas, however, seem to be better than several existing crops. Cultivation of Paramount and Asterix potato varieties could make high gains. 

The average potato yield in Pakistan is about 22 tons a hectare. The production of potato in trials in Gobor and Golain valleys was 55 tons a hectare. This is two and a half times higher than the average production for the country. 

The reported production in the trials in Chitral is also higher than all potato producing countries of the world. The average price of a 120 kgs bag in Chitral was about Rs 5000 during the potato marketing season in 2014. With double increase in yield, this is significantly higher incomes for the poor potato farmers. 

The accurate trial to trial data are currently being compiled by Agriculture Statistics Department of Chitral and local potato growers. There is a great need that the lessons from Gobor and Golain valleys in Chitral are replicated to other potato growing areas in Pakistan. The potato growing communities of other mountainous areas including Gilgit-Baltistan can greatly benefit out of the Chitral potato experiment. This revolutionary production of potato could make a much needed change in the lives of the farmers in the mountain regions of Pakistan. 

Business Recorder, 1 Jan 2015

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