Plateau: Potato Farmers At War With Blight Disease

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Potato farmers in Plateau State have been advised to adopt a variety of farming practices including crop rotation, sole cropping, application of pesticides and selection of healthy plants, to contain losses incurred from potato disease, late blight.

Blight is, however, a plant disease, typically one caused by fungi such as mildews, rusts, and smuts.

Chairman of Solanum Potatoes and Vegetable Marketers Association, Shippi Emmanuel, said that farmers who adopted some of these “good agricultural practices” are no longer scared of the disease and are increasing production.

Emmanuel made the comment while speaking during the implementation of the Green Innovation Centre project in Nigeria which was held in partnership with Agriculture and Finance Consultants (AFC) in Plateau.

With the first rains signaling the beginning of another planting season, potato farmers in the state have expressed worry over the blight disease, among other environmental challenges.

Irish farmer, Mrs. Mary Bwakat, in Maikato Bokkos Local Government Area of the state expressed worry that the advent of the rainy season could lead to an outbreak of late blight disease.

“Late blight can decimate yields of Irish potatoes. To manage the disease, farmers are advised to use good quality, disease-free, certified seeds and a variety of good practices. But disease-free seeds are both expensive and scarce”, she said.

Speaking at the programme, Coordinator of the state wing of the National Root Crop and Research Institute, Danbaba Anthony, insisted that the use of proper spraying practices and positive selection – a process where farmers harvest and cultivate only healthy plants – will help farmers reduce their fears.

Adding, he said that his organization engages in research to improve production, processing, and storage of root and tuber crops.

But some farmers are saying that clean certified seeds are not easily accessible to smallholder farmers in the area. “I’ve been cultivating Irish potatoes for 15 years now but I have never seen and use clean certified seeds”, Bwakat said.

However, another farmer, Dawam Jonathan, who also grows Irish potatoes, says the technique works for him. “I have adopted crop rotation, positive selection, and proper use of fungicides and pesticides to control potato blight disease”, he said.

The plateau which Wikipedia rates as the 12th-largest state in Nigeria, is geographically unique in the country due to its boundaries of elevated hills surrounding the Jos Plateau its capital, and the entire plateau itself. The state is celebrated as The Home of Peace and Tourism. With natural formations of rocks, hills, and waterfalls, it derives its name from the Jos Plateau and has a population of around 3.5 million people.

Without a doubt, it is one of Nigeria’s hub of Irish potato production, a crop that is one of the most important sources of income for local farmers. But, despite favorable environmental conditions, production capacity has decreased in recent times due to the onslaught of late blight disease on potato farms.

The state is, however, located in Nigeria’s middle belt. With an area of 26,899 square kilometers, the state is located between latitude 08°24’N and longitude 008°32′ and 010°38′ east. Bare rocks are scattered across the grasslands, which cover the plateau.

The altitude ranges from around 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) to a peak of 1,829 meters (6,001 ft) above sea level in the Shere Hills range near Jos. Years of tin and columbite mining have also left the area strewn with deep gorges and lakes.

Though situated in the tropical zone, a higher altitude means that Plateau State has a near temperate climate with an average temperature of between 13 and 22 °C. Harmattan winds cause the coldest weather between December and February.

The warmest temperatures usually occur in the dry season months of March and April. The mean annual rainfall varies between 131.75 cm (52 in) in the southern part to 146 cm (57 in) on the Plateau. The highest rainfall is recorded during the wet season months of July and August.

The average lower temperature in Plateau has led to a reduced incidence of some tropical diseases such as malaria. The Jos Plateau makes it the source of many rivers in northern Nigeria including the KadunaGongolaHadeja and Yobe rivers.

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