Benchmarking Food Crop Markets in Southern Africa: The Case of Potatoes and Potato Products 1961–2010

Abstract

Pressures and opportunities in food systems across Southern Africa have generated renewed interest in potatoes both as a food crop and a source of income in recent years. With populations growing at over 2.0 %/year in several countries and urban consumers often eager to diversify their diets, new markets are also opening up. Given these trends, growers, traders and governments are seeking out new ways to capitalize on these developments. This paper examines the evolution of growth rates in potato production, utilization and trade in Southern Africa over nearly the last half century using FAO annual secondary data. After highlighting the different roles that potatoes have played in crop diversification across the sub-region, the paper identifies some key issues for future research as well as some opportunities for industry both large and small.

Resumen

Las presiones y oportunidades en los sistemas alimenticios en los países del África del Sur han generado renovado interés en la papa como un cultivo de consumo y de venta en los últimos años. Con tasas de crecimiento anual poblacional encima de 2,0 % en varios países y con consumidores urbanos con ganas de diversificar sus dietas, nuevos mercados están abriendo. Dada esta situación, productores, comerciantes y gobiernos están interesados en aprovechar dichas tendencias. Este artículo examina la evolución de las tasas de crecimiento de la producción, utilización y comercio de la papa en África del Sur durante casi el último medio siglo utilizando los datos de la FAO. Después de subrayar los diferentes papeles que la papa ha tenido en la diversificación agrícola a lo largo de la sub-región durante ese periodo, se identifican algunos temas clave para futuras investigaciones además de algunas oportunidades para la industria tanto grande como pequeña.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Henry Juarez of CIP’s Research Informatics Unit for sharing the revised map of potato production in Africa.

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Correspondence to Gregory J. Scott.

Appendix. Some Reflections on Statistics for Potatoes in Sub-Saharan Africa

Appendix. Some Reflections on Statistics for Potatoes in Sub-Saharan Africa

The literature on potatoes in Africa is riddled with examples—some acknowledged, others not—of inconsistencies in the data on production and utilization as has been noted by a number of previous studies: Scott (1988) for Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex- Zaïre), Ferris et al. (2001) for Uganda; Dürr (1983) and Goossens (2002) for Rwanda, Gildemacher et al. (2009) for Ethiopia, to cite but a few examples. The vast majority of instances, but by no means all, involve published statistics for production, area, and yields and the differences between national figures versus those published by FAOSTAT. Another substantial set of differences concern discrepancies between national reporting agencies, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture versus the Census Bureau or the National Agricultural Research Institute. Given this reality, a number of observations are in order.

First, problems with the accuracy of data on potatoes in SA are by no means peculiar to this sub-region (Scott and Suarez 2012b). For decades, informed observers have pointed to the various features of potatoes in developing countries (e.g. grown by small farmers, in isolated production zones, in multiple-cropping or relay cropping patterns, intercropped with other commodities such as maize, characterized by staggered harvests in the same field and with little foreign trade) that lend it to being susceptible to inaccurate reporting (Horton 1981, 1987, 1988)—even in industrialized countries (Scott 2002). However, many of the same considerations apply to other crops and livestock in developing countries.

Second, it might be argued that the factors mentioned above are more acute for potatoes in SA given the political and therefore institutional instability that has characterized the region’s history over much of the last five decades. In addition, the crop is well down on the list of major food commodities in most the countries even in some where production is relatively high. In effect, where resources are scarce, less attention is given to those commodities that are perceived as less important. Unfortunately for potatoes, the extent to which the crop is underreported, these sorts of circumstances make for something of a self-perpetuating scenario.

Third, several of the major potato-producing countries simply have not collected and/or disseminated annual statistics on potato production, area and yields in perpetual fashion. For example, Gildemacher et al. (2009) refer to unpublished data on potato production in Ethiopia 1995–2000. Hence, aside from the question of their accuracy, the historical time-series on potato output are incomplete (e.g. for Madagascar, see Rasolo 1986) or sometimes unavailable.

Finally, given this situation, the discrepancies are there. Hence, the question what if anything can be made of them? For Malawi, the most blatant case of overestimation, various sources have noted the major difference between the figures reported by FAO and those disseminated by other, national sources (Saka 2000; Demo et al. 2009; Minot 2010). Conversations with crop specialists have confirmed this phenomenon. But, in this particular case, an alternative exists in the form of times-series data on production and area that we have extended back in time to have a complete set of statistics for the period in question (Table 8). These data also offer a reasonable explanation of why the differences between data sets exist and therefore a justification for their use instead of FAO figures in this paper. FAOSTAT reports that Malawi produces no sweet potatoes when the data and FAO mission reports indicate that it does (FAO 2002).

Table 8 Potato production in Malawi according to different sources, 1961–2010

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Scott, G.J., Labarta, R. & Suarez, V. Benchmarking Food Crop Markets in Southern Africa: The Case of Potatoes and Potato Products 1961–2010. Am. J. Potato Res. 90, 497–515 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12230-013-9322-3

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Keywords

  • Marketing
  • Trade
  • Production
  • Consumption
  • Technology
  • Private sector