In Uganda, value addition that is very critical in upgrading the entire potato value chain remains limited. Benefits of value addition include the preservation of surpluses from one season to another, easy handling of products during storage and transportation, reduction of transportation costs and production of convenience foods in response to changing lifestyles, and availing products with improved nutritional content. Value addition also builds bridges between agriculture and industry sectors, and creates jobs mainly for the youth who usually shun the traditional farming activities.However, one of the major factors that plunders value addition in the Ugandan potato value chain may not be more of lack of the required potato varieties, but rather knowing very little on the processing properties (physical and chemical characteristics) of the varieties grown in the country. Uganda is not short of potato farmers to produce the volumes processors need. The challenge is the mismatch between what varieties and properties of potato farmers grow and what processors need. Whereas farmers continue lamenting of limited market for their harvests, processors are not happy with the quality of potato farmers supply. Consequently, there is less and less and less. Farmers market less, processors demand and process less, and consumers access less value added products.Why then look on when forming a partnership with other Institutions, farmers and communities solves these challenges? The main reason Makerere University has struck a partnership deal with Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) in a Community Action Research Programme (CARP+). By its design, the project targets strengthening synergies and working relationships of the University (students and researchers) and the farming community to enhance the capacity of potato value chain actors. Working closely with UIRI, a government of Uganda incubation facility, the CARP+ Project is screening the major potato varieties grown in Uganda for processing qualities. How great it is Makerere University associating herself to UIRI’s mission of improving capacity and competence of local entrepreneurs in undertaking viable industrial production processes and producing high quality, marketable products!
Located in the cultivated terraces and beautiful rolling hills of Kabale in South-western Uganda, UIRI is not only contributing to the CARP+ Project her experienced personnel in potato processing and providing incubation services, but also the processing equipment and the established network with potato farmers. With diverse and modern equipment and machines needed to produce potato products such as crisps, French fries and potato flour, there is no better organisation Makerere University would have partnered with. The UIRI incubation plant with such machines as peelers, slicers, blanching, fryers, and driers, has capacity to produce a range of potato-based value added products.
Having established the processing properties of the existing potato varieties in Uganda, the Makerere University-UIRI partnership will develop and test innovative potato-based value added products with potential for commercialisation. What is convincingly possible is viable production of frozen fries and quality snacks from potato varieties the smallholder farmers are conversantly growing but currently not used by processors. One of the main research outputs expected from the CARP+ Project is characterization of the locally grown varieties in Uganda. This will provide the unavoidable information on the physicochemical and processing properties of these varieties, the cornerstone on which value addition and processing is based.
Subsequently, the partnership will venture into developing an intermediate product for making French fries, and testing its viability. What would hinder the commercialisation of this product given the growing demand for French fries by both the local community and urban restaurants is at this point in time not a question. The demand for and utilisation of the locally grown potato varieties will eventually increase, postharvest losses will reduce and the farm supply of potato will stabilise. The information generated will also benefit other researchers, processors in product development, market analysis and investment in other potato-based products
Much as the Makerere-UIRI partnership strengthens the relationship and increases the visibility of the two Institutions, more benefits are to be enjoyed by the potato value chain actors, the potato growing community and the nation at large. What the partnership expects from the community is providing value chain actors that need capacity building in supplying the required quantity of potato with required processing properties, and those who need processing and entrepreneurship skills. In a participatory mode, the CARP+ Project will do the needful; thanks to the funding from the MasterCard Foundation through RUFORUM.
By Napoleon Kajunju, Msc Student and MUGISHA CV 2018; CARP+ Project PI