21 August 2019
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Dedza’s mbatatesi millionaires

Written by  Sellah Singini
MAKING MILLIONS: Matiness Gangata from Dedza and her Irish potatoes (mbatatesi) - Pic by Sellah Singini MAKING MILLIONS: Matiness Gangata from Dedza and her Irish potatoes (mbatatesi) - Pic by Sellah Singini

Dedza, December 31, 2018: Dedza District is known for cultivation of Irish potato and tobacco from time immemorial. 

Only tobacco is still regarded by many as a viable cash crop despite prices going down on the market over the years due to antismoking campaign around the world.

However, in recent years, some Irish potato farmers have proven that it can surpass tobacco as they are able to make millions of kwacha annually from sales of Irish potato locally known as mabatatesi or kachewere.

Velemu Chizulu, 43, from Mbodzi Village in the area of Traditional Authority Kasumbu is among a few farmers that have made themselves millionaires through commercial Irish potato farming using modern techniques.

He started growing Irish potato for sale way back in 1996 but for years he has not been able to make enough profit due to lack of advisory extension services on modern farming methods.

“I was struggling a lot; my family could starve. I was living in a tinny grass-thatched house and had one pair of trousers. Life was not easy at all,” Chizulu says.

Luckily, in 2005, International Potato Centre (CIP) came in and introduced modern techniques of growing mbatatesi to Chizulu and fellow farmers which eventually boosted yield, quality of the crop and business.

“My life is now transformed. I am no longer Chizulu people used to know. I have a big decent house with solar power.

I use the solar power for my household energy needs and make extra money from people who come to recharge their mobile phones,” he says.

Chizulu adds that Irish potato farming has also earned him two maize mills, a pickup and livestock.

“The maize mills are a blessing to women of my village because they no longer travel long distances to produce flour.
“The pickup helps me transport the Irish potato from farm to markets,” he says.
Chizulu explains that he grows Irish potato on a three-hectare piece of land twice a year and makes a profit of up to K2 million annually.
“I am now able to accord my family a decent lifestyle.
“I pay school fees for my two children who are both in secondary school. My first born is in form three while the second is in form one,” he says.

Chizulu sells the Irish potato to vendors both within and outside Dedza. He takes the produce to Lilongwe, Mchinji and as far as Chipata in Zambia. He is also into Irish potato seed production which he sells to fellow farmers.


Leonard Mideyo, 48, from Nkungumbe Village in the area of TA Kamenyagwaza is another Irish potato farmer with a success story to tell. Mideyo says he grows Irish potato five times a year on an acre of land and makes a profit of K2 million every year.

“I started growing Irish potato way back in 1979 but was not making profits due to poor quality as I could intercrop it with maize.
“In 2008, I started growing Irish potato on a separate piece of land following CIP’s advisory extension services and eventually started producing quality crop which sells fast,” Mideyo says.

He adds that he does not go out to search for buyers because they follow him right at his farm.

“I do not search for buyers; they come to my home to buy the potato because good quality. I put up sign posts all the way from the main road to lead buyers to my place.
“From the sales of potato, I bought myself two pickups which fellow farmers hire to transport their produce to Bembeke Market,” Mideyo says.

He adds that from the proceeds accumulated over the past 10 years, he has managed to construct a big house and buy pigs, goats, cattle and chickens.


Irish potato production is not for men only; even women are into it and have equally inspiring accounts.

Matiness Gangata, 30, from Ngwere Village in the area of TA Kasumbu says she makes K1 million every year from Irish potato.

“I am able to pay school fees for my two children who are in forms three and one at Mayani Secondary School.
“Fees per term at the school amount to K45, 000 per student and I’m managing to pay K270, 000 per year for them,” she says.

Just like Chizulu and Mideyo, Gangata has also managed to build a decent house at her home village where she lives with her husband and three children.

“I am also rearing livestock such as cattle and chickens which I bought with money from Irish potato sales,” she says.

All the three farmers agree that it is CIP’s knowledge imparted to them that has helped them maximise Irish potato farming potential.

“I encourage other farmers to adopt modern techniques for them to also start harvesting high quality and profitable yields,” Gangata says.

CIP’s Research Technician in Dedza Thokozani Mvula says the organisation introduced the techniques to ensure that farmers harvest good quality potato.

Among other techniques, farmers are advised to ensure that they plant good quality seed tubers.

“We encourage farmers to select seed whilst the crop is at flowering stage by pegging plants that are attacked by diseases.
“We also promote improved potato varieties such as Mwai, Chuma, Zikomo and Thandizo because they are high yielding,” Mvula says.

He adds that the varieties have a considerable degree of disease resistance more especially late blight disease (Chiwawu).
“Selecting seed at flowering stage helps farmers to identify healthy plants from those already attacked by diseases.
“This is against the common practice by most farmers to select seed at harvesting when the plants have died and it is difficult to identity good tubers from the diseased ones,” Mvula says.

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