Agriculture: National potato programme will promote two new varieties of potato seeds in ten locations in the country along with irrigation facilities to promote the varieties of the crop.

Desiree, Kufri Jyoti, Yusi Kaap, Khangma Kaap and Nasephel Kewa Kaap are the potato varieties that are currently grown in the country.

Nasephel Kewa Kaap was released in 2014. The variety has a potential to yield about 39 to 45 metric tonnes (MT) per hectare compared with the popular variety, Desiree, which yields about 27 MT a hectare.

Desiree is a red-skinned potato originally bred in the Netherlands. About 90 percent of farmers in the country grow this variety.

An official with the potato programme said that the new variety is also resistant to some potato viruses like late blight and potato leafroll virus (PLRV).

Seed multiplication of this variety in the country is under process. About five metric tonnes of the new variety seeds multiplied by the farmers were bought back from farmers for demonstration in the ten locations and for further multiplication in next year’s season.

“This variety might replace Desiree because of the new variety’s oval shape and red in colour, which is preferred by the farmers,” the official said.

Another new potato variety will be released soon. The official said that trials for a red variety, which have potential to yield 28 to 57 MT a hectare have been completed.

Of seven varieties of potato, which were evaluated through Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) in Bumthang and Trashigang this year, the red variety was found to be most promising.

“We will propose the variety for release this year,” he said. Some 3,000 kgs of seed of the variety is available with the department for demonstration and further multiplication.

“This variety will be good for our farmers because it is resistant to the common potato disease late blight, among others,” the official said.

The ministry aims to increase the potato production in the country to 68,000 MT in 2018, that is 5.5 MT per acre.

However, the official said that the annual performance agreement (APA) target for the 11th Plan was set too high and may not be achievable.

Crops damaged by frost, hailstone and rotting due to natural calamities were reported in some major potato growing dzongkhags like Wangdue, Chhukha and Haa, which contributed to the low production.

Last year, the production in the country was 4.02 MT per acre, totaling to 48,276 MT. Chukkha has the highest potato production at about 7,500 kilograms (Kgs) per acre, followed by Bumthang at 6,900 kgs/acre. Thimphu and Wangdue produced 6,500 and 5,500 kgs/acre respectively, among others.

The crop production data for this year’s season is under compilation.

Except for Pemagatshel, Punakha and Sarpang, the dzongkhags have a total budget of Nu 16.8 million (M). Chhukha has the highest budget of about Nu 4.2M, followed by Wangdue and Bumthang at Nu 4.0M and 2.8M respectively.

The official said that the department wont be able to do anything in developing capacity on technologies next year because no budget was approved for the purpose against the proposed amount of Nu 2.0M.

However, the official said that the dzongkhags could use the available budget for the capacity development in their respective dzongkhags if required.

High production costs on labour, low scope for farm mechanisation due to mountainous terrain and small farm size is a challenge for the farmers cultivating potato in the country.

Poor seed replacement ratio and seed quality; lack of irrigation; soil conservation and fertility management, wildlife damage, unstable price in auction and post harvest losses are the other challenges.

Having a stronger financial and technical support for research and extension in future research and development activities and increasing participation by potato producers, traders and processing industry in developing agendas and setting priorities are some of the way forwards to overcome the challenges.

Paro, Chhukha, Wangdue, Bumthang, Mongar and Trashigang are the major potato growing dzongkhags in the country.

Dechen Tshomo