23 November 2017
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DARS cleaning potatoes of viruses to improve production

Written by  Idah Kazembe
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Joseph Mwanamvekha: Government will devise a formula - File Photo Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Joseph Mwanamvekha: Government will devise a formula - File Photo

Blantyre, October 15, 2017: Due to the recycling of sweet and Irish potatoes planting materials in line with traditional agricultural practice over the years, the two crops have developed viruses resulting in low production, Malawi News Agency (Mana) has established. 

The development has induced crop scientists at the Department of Agriculture Research Services (DARS) into action who have since embarked on a laboratory cleaning exercise of sweet and Irish potato planting materials.

Research Scientist responsible for potato breeding at Bvumbwe Research Station, Orbert Mwenye, told Mana the cleaning process is currently underway and that samples have since been sent to Kenya and Scotland to be cleaned.

“We have sent Irish potato samples to Scotland and those of sweet potatoes to Kenya for the cleaning to be done because currently, Malawi has no equipment required for the removal of the viruses,” Mwenye said.

He said once the Irish potato is affected by the virus, production can dwindle by up to 80 percent and even be worse for sweet potatoes whose production could lower with whole 100 percent once attacked by the virus.

The research scientist, therefore, urged farmers to avoid using the affected potato planting materials.
However, Mwenye observed that the potato viruses observed are not entirely new but that they recur as a result of the tendency of recycling planting materials through the traditional farming practice of sharing planting materials.

Mwenye said government will soon have its own thermotherapy growth chamber – the potato virus cleaning equipment as a way of enhancing and shortening the cleaning process and also cutting the costs.

“With support from the World Potato Centre and funding from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we have ordered the country’s own Thermotherapy Growth Chamber and that will mean no exportation of samples, translating into reduced time of the process as well as reducing costs,” Mwenye explained.

Currently, it takes a minimum of six months for the samples to get back to Malawi after being cleaned in various countries such as Mozambique, Kenya and Scotland.

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Joseph Mwanamvekha disclosed that government would devise a formula of up-scaling research activities in all the country’s research stations to make the most out of the country’s researchers.

“In appreciation of the impact of science on the national agro – based economy, soon we are planning to hold a meeting with all the major research stations namely; Bvumbwe, Chitedze, Lunyangwa, Makoka and Kasinthula so that we can rectify all the obstacles derailing efforts to come up with more varieties and viable solutions in this era of climate change where pests and diseases are predominant,” Mwanamvekha said.

He said the country needs a vibrant team of researchers to enable it produce disease resistant and high-yielding crops such as the cleaned and improved potato varieties which would facilitate nutrition uptake, food diversification and economic growth.

Meanwhile, Bvumbwe Research Station has cleaned, improved and fortified potato varieties within the family of Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes such as Zondeni, Sungani, Kaphulira, Kadya Ubwelere, Chipika and Mathuthu.

These varieties are already being propagated to farmers in the country.

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