Entering the market to earn more
In developing countries, potatoes improve the diet of those small-scale farmers who grow them. But that’s not all. Potatoes are also – and above all – a way for them to generate and supplement their income, particularly when the farmers get in contact with markets. The SDC’s programmes in Bhutan, Peru and Mongolia are examples of how this works.
The SDC promotes development through the improvement of farming systems to generate income. It has actively supported the potato sector and particularly small-scale farming for decades. In the past, the SDC concentrated on simple potato farming. Now the focus has shifted to supplementing income by growing higher-quality potatoes and improving coordination along the entire chain of production.
Bhutan: selling potato seed to its neighbours
In Bhutan, small-scale farmers in the high mountains have been able to increase the profitability of potato-growing thanks to better production and marketing techniques. That has allowed them to acquire other foods and basic goods essential to a decent life, as well as to put a roof over their heads and send their children to school.
The first roads were built in the early sixties, giving the Bhutanese access to markets in the countries to the south. Small-scale farmers began to sell quality potato seed to farmers in the plains regions. Potatoes can also grow at low altitudes during cool seasons. That means that potatoes are grown and available on the market year-round. Today, Bhutan sells potato seed to Bangladesh and exports 40-50 percent of its potatoes to India. Bhutan joined the free-market economy thanks to potatoes. For many years the SDC was the main sponsor of potato programmes in Bhutan.
Native varieties on Peru’s supermarket shelves
Another important issue is the preservation and use of the thousands of varieties of potatoes. Managing genetic diversity sustainably is vital to ensuring food security and safeguarding health, the environment and habitats. To do this, the SDC supported and developed the capacities of small-scale farmers and helped forge new partnerships – two cross-cutting components of SDC’s programmes.
Peru and Bolivia have more varieties of potatoes than anywhere else in the world. In Peru this diversity has been used to open up new marketing opportunities. The T'ikapapa initiative links small-scale producers of native potatoes to urban markets. This initiative was started by Papa Andina, a regional programme implemented by national partners in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, backed by the SDC and coordinated by the International Potato Center (CIP). Today, two supermarket chains in Lima sell potato varieties supplied by farmers’ organisations and sold under the name T'ikapapa (“potato flower” in Quechua). Some 500 peasant families on the high Andean plateaus in Peru have seen their incomes rise as a result. The initiative focuses on offering a quality product with an attractive appearance and packaging to meet the demands of urban consumers who are often unaware that so many native potato varieties exist. Another part of the marketing strategy is emphasising the role of potatoes as an integral part of Peru’s cultural identity.
Producing potato seed in Mongolia
During Mongolia’s transition to a free-market economy, this long-time potato exporter was forced to import 40 percent of its potatoes from China. At that time, the large Soviet-era collective farms had disappeared, leaving behind 35,000 resource-poor small-scale farmers. Many tried to raise livestock but a large number lost their herds to drought and cold. Potato cultivation held potential as long as enough land and water remained on the semi-desert high plateaus. Potatoes therefore became important to the poor rural population not only to supplement their diet, but also to increase their income.
The SDC began its partnership with Mongolia in 2004, emphasising the production of quality potato seed in a decentralised system. Within three years, the newly-introduced varieties had boosted yields to the point of satisfying the needs of half a million consumers. However, difficulties remain, such as how to adapt storage to the very harsh winters. Currently, the programme is studying ways of further increasing the income of small-scale farmers. It is developing methods for producing potato seed and researching distribution channels (value chains).
Additional Information and Documents
- Potato Boom in the rice region
Asia Brief - February 2008
Download (PDF, 2700 KB) : [de] [en] [fr]
- Potato Revolution in Bhutan: Partnership Results
Asia Brief - February 2008
Download (PDF, 586 KB) : [de] [en] [fr]
- T’ikapapa - Peruvian native potato initiative
- Climate change and Environment