Lack of variety, late blight disease and yield stagnation of potatoes, and poor seed quality are some of the challenges to increasing potato yield in the country.

This was presented at the Bhutan Ecological Society (BES) symposium in Thimphu on December 3.

The head of the national potato programme at the Research and Development Centre, Yadunath Bajgai (PhD), said that while potatoes are used mostly in processing industries, people considered it a vegetable. “It is actually the fourth non-cereal food globally.”

He said people assume potato is only carbohydrate but it contains other nutrients such as protein, fats and dietary fibre. “A new variety of potato, Yusi-maap, which was introduced in June this year, is high in nutrient content such as iron, zinc and vitamin c.”

He said potato is called the wholesome food on a global scale adding that it has the potential to meet all requirements provided an individual consume different varieties of potatoes such as Yusi-maap.

Yadunath Bajgai said potatoes also contribute to food security in Bhutan through direct consumption and help farmers earn money to buy imported rice.

He said potato is a cash crop in Trashigang, Bumthang, and Haa. “Potatoes were the single most crop that helped people take interest in commercial farming from subsistence farming.”

In 2016, potatoes helped generate Nu 797 million (M) whereas vegetables such as asparagus, chilli, cabbage, radish, beans, peas, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower combined fetched Nu 631 million.

A participant, Tandin Penjor, inquired why there was a difference in price between local potatoes and imported ones and how the price difference could be addressed?

Yadunath Bajgai said it was an opportunity cost, as potatoes are harvested in winter in West Bengal. “One of the problems is that because we live in higher altitudes, we assume that we don’t need cold storages.”

He said that potatoes should be stored in temperature less than eight degree Celsius and in a place like Bumthang, the day temperature reaches about 30 degree Celsius. “If we can store our own potatoes, we don’t have to buy from India.”

The existing varieties of potatoes are desiree, Nasephey-kewa-kaap, kufri Jyoti, and khangma-kaap.

In a research conducted by the national programme centre, it was found that farmers in Chukha and Wangdi preferred Yusi-maap compared to Nasephey-kewa-kaap and desiree.

Yadunath Bajgai said that although potato is widely grown, yields have stagnated over the years. “The new varieties have the potential to revolutionise potato yield.”

Rinchen Zangmo