IN PLATEAU State, a disease called potato blight is currently ravaging farms. Potato plight is a disease caused by a fungus like organism that spreads rapidly in the foliageand tubers of potatoes. In 2014, the disease destroyed over 1000 hectares of potato farms in Plateau and  experts said the rate of destruction has almost doubled this year in a state described as the number one potato producer in Nigeria. Osani Mancha, a potato farmer in Barkin Ladi told our correspondent that he lost about 6 farmlands to the blight disease this year. Another farmer Mrs Goje Illiya said “My harvest this year was a bit poor because of the outbreak of the disease”. Plateau State could  be tagged the home of Irish potatoes because of the favourable weather condition that favours the cultivation of the root crop. Irish potatoes are grown in commercial quantities in Mangu, Jos North, Jos South,  Riyom, Panshin and Bokkos Local Government Areas of the State. Our correspondent gathered that  this  area councils of the state alone can feed the entire country and beyond with Irish potatoes cultivated in commercial quantity from the area if it is given the needed attention. In Bokkos Market, people come from all over the country to buy Irish potatoes. Our correspondent also  gathered that more than 200 trucks of Irish potatoes are moved from Mangu Market every week between Wednesday and Friday. On Thursdays in Bokkos, the story is the same as more than seventy trucks of potatoes are moved from the area by traders.
Livunus Dung said that he  harvests as much as 30 to 40 bags of Irish potatoes yearly but this is being threaten as a result of the blight disease. Recently, stakeholders, including over 300 farmers from Plateau’s eight local government areas producing potato in commercial quantity met in Jos the state capital to find solution to the dreaded potato blight disease currently ravaging their farmlands. The event which was organised by Vicampro, a Plateau-based potato production, storage and processing company, had potato farmers from Jos North, Jos South, Riyom, Bassa, Panshin, Mangu, Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local government areas in attendance. Speaking on how to prevent phytophtera infrestance, the oomycete (water molds) that causes potato blight, Ludo Wentholt, the Chief Operating Officer of Vicampro, said high humidity and temperature stimulates the growth of blight making the disease more severe in the rainy season. He advised potato farmers against inter cropping stressing that planting potatoes and corn makes spraying fungicides from preventing the bligh difficult. Speaking Earlier, the Managing Director, Vicampro, Michael Agbogbo said the fact that close to 70 per cent of the major potato farmers in Plateau State were at the workshop meant the problem of potato blight must be tackled head on. He  said the potatoes industry in Plateau can be one of the biggest in the country but lamented that the disease has been a setback to achieving that goal. “The training has  become imperative in order to fight the scourge, which devastating effect has taken a toll on farmers”. Vicampro would continue to partner with farmers in the state to boost food production in the county. We believe that partnership can help our organisation and industry to achieve more. “Vicampro is leading the way in developing the irish potato value chain and we believe that agriculture is a great business that can also be professional as any other white collar Job “. State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mrs Linda Barau, who also spoke at the occasion, said potato blight has been a problem to farmers in the state in the past four years. Barau said “the state government iscommitted to finding last solution to the disease as the state has appealed to the federal government to assist the state. It could be recalled that Gov Simon Lalong had recently said that potato Value Chain in Plateau has the potential to create 60,000 jobs for the citizens of the state. Lalong stated this while meeting with members of the African Development Bank( AFDB) in Plateau on potato value chain support project in Jos. He said that expert projection indicates that the state produces potato in all the 17 local government areas and there that there is a huge potential in potato value chain. Nature has endowed the state with comparative advantage in terms of favourable weather and soil for the production of potato. “I believe all these factors influenced the banks choice of Plateau as the single beneficiary of the potato value chain support project. It is our hope that this project will address the constraints of potato production of our farmers such as availability of good quality seeds locally. The project will also control disease which has ravaged our farms, post harvest loss and marketing of potatoes”, he said adding that Plateau was not only the home of peace and tourism but also the indisputable home of potato in Nigeria. According to him, the state produces about 90 per cent of the potato consumed in Nigeria beside the export of quality stock to neighbouring countries such like Chad, Niger and Benin Republic. Lalong expressed optimism that the attendant increase of potato production and establishment of processing industries would fulfill this administration’s agenda of boosting agricultural production, rural development and industrial development. The governor assured the stakeholders and farmers’ representatives that his administration was committed to the success of the potato value chain support project. “As a pre-condition for Plateau to participate in the proposed Potato Value Chain Project, the present administration had to pay the backlog of counterpart fund (2009-2013) amounting to N54.4 million. “It has greatly facilitated the engagement of a consultant to start the preparation of preliminary documents for the project and payment of backlog of Fadam II Staff Allowances. Another sum of N25 million being the 2016 counterpart fund has also been released by this administration,” he added. The Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mrs Lynda Barau, urged the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) to extend its intervention to all the 17 local governments instead of 11 they are intervening in. Dr Ibrahim Ahmadu, AfDB Team Leader, said that they were in the state for preparation mission to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed potato value chain. “During the mission, AfDB will hold discussions with government authorities and the relevant stakeholders. The discussions will ensure technical adherence to the designs and also its consistency with national policies, financial and economic viability for sustainability. “The mission will review all potato development alternatives and will look at all possible scenarios of getting the desired output,” he said. In a related development , governor
Simon Lalong ,has   predicated  that the state is estimated to harvest 6975 metric tonnes of rice in the  2016 cropping season. Lalong made this known  in his village  Ajikamai, in Shendam Local Government Area of the state while  flagging off Fadama III rice production. He said “From expert estimation 6,975 metric tonnes of rice will be harvested during this season. This is a giant stride towards attaining food sufficiency not only in Plateau but the country in general”. Lalong also  said “That the State Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with Fadama III project had disbursed rice seeds to 1395  beneficiaries that translated to the cultivation of 1395 hectares put together”. He said that the state government would continue to build stronger bridges between agricultural sector and the rest of the economy. “The Fadama project  has stimulated the government into putting in place measures in establishing processing plants for rice and tomato through public private partnership arrangement. To compliment the efforts, the state is endowed with 100,000 hectares of fadama farm lands, cleared and suitable for rice production. He added that there is 200, 000 hectares of farm land suitable for tomato production during both rainy and dry season. Lalong also stated that as a responsible government desirous to reduce poverty among its people, and attain food sufficiency, it has promptly paid arrears of counterpart fund for the Fadama III project for 2014 and 2015. “This is what has given the state the legitimacy to be considered for the Fadama III Additional Financing Project which allows greater participation by farmers in the project”. He said that the Fadama III Project told him that they would support only tomato farming in the additional financing support but he requested for rice because of the comparative advantage. Also speaking at the occasion, the national coordinator of Fadama III Project,  Adetayo Adewumi, assured the government of his continuous support to the State Fadama Coordination Office (SFCO) for the benefit of farmers in the state. He said that the SFCO had recieved awards for the excellent work it is doing and has been rated the best SFCO in Northern Nigeria by the National House Committee on Agriculture in 2014. Adewumi also said that Plateau is first to establish Fadama Farmers Microfinance Bank through savings realized by farmers under Farmers Users Equity Funds. “Just recently, the state was rated “second to none”during the 4th World Bank-FGN Supervision Mission in January 2016 by task team leader, Dr Adetunji Oredipe. “This was an additional reason that led to the consideration by both the national office and the World Bank to allow an additional crop (rice) to be supported under Fadama III additional finance support on the Plateau.” Plateau Fadama III Coordinator  Gideon Dandam, also commended the  state government  for the support  so far enjoyed by the Lalong led administration. Dandam pledged the SFCO’s loyalty to governments in its quest for poverty reduction and food security.

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