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Dr Dindo M. Campilan *

1.  Introduction: the many faces of potato agriculture in Asia

Asia produces and consumes more potatoes than any other region in the world. This makes the region a strategic location for demonstrating the crop’s contribution to poverty alleviation in the developing world.

Research and development efforts face the challenge of dealing with diverse systems in which the crop is grown and utilized in Asia. First, regional production is dominated by two potato giants, China and India, along with five of the world’s top 20 producing countries, and several others engaged in smaller-scale production. Second, the crop is grown across the broad agro-ecological landscape in Asia — from the warmer lowlands in the subtropics to the high-altitude temperate areas. Third, the crop’s utilization pattern extends from being a staple food to a high-value vegetable and key ingredient in various processed products.

With this heterogeneous character of potato agriculture, the crop’s importance as a source of livelihood cuts across the various segments of Asia’s poor. And since there cannot be a single potato farmer stereotype, research and development interventions have to fine-tune the targeting of different categories of poor potato farming households.

This paper presents a series of International Potato Center (CIP) projects (Figure 1) in Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines. It describes research for development experiences in working with poor farming households to address disease, general crop health and marketing constraints. The paper aims: a) to characterize poor farming households and their potato livelihoods, b) to assess how poor farmers can meaningfully participate in and benefit from potato research and development, and c) to examine the role of rural institutions and markets in pro-poor potato research and development.

2.  Mobilizing communities for bacterial wilt management in Nepal

The potato is Nepal’s second most important food crop, after cereals; it is grown from the southern plains to the remote northern mountains. In South Asia, the country has the highest per capita consumption of potatoes. Still, Nepal has one of the lowest national yield averages globally and for the developing world. Diseases are a major limiting factor to improving potato productivity in the country. Use of low-quality seed, and poor crop management practices are among the key factors contributing to the widespread occurrence of disease (Hidalgo et al, 2001). In addition, potato farmers are rarely reached by formal research and extension services. Government agencies are constrained by limited resources and capacities to respond to problems faced by potato farmers in remote areas.

In the early 1990s, Nepalese researchers conducted several diagnostic activities to assess serious crop losses faced by potato farmers in the western midhills. Local farmers identified bacterial wilt disease as their most important problem, with losses in yield ranging from
10 percent to over 90 percent. Its occurrence was mainly associated with the use of infected seed, along with planting in infested soil and poor crop management practices.

Subsequently, CIP and Nepal’s Lumle Agricultural Research Centre (LARC) initiated a research project to help local potato farmers manage bacterial wilt. Drawing on previous research, the project introduced an integrated disease management strategy covering technology components for seed, soil and general crop health,

However, in implementing this strategy, it became clear that the proposed technical solutions were not adequate to manage the disease problem. There were crucial socio-cultural and economic factors that hindered implementation of the technology components. For example, enforcing measures to control the spread of infected seed implied restricting the use of seed potato as a cultural symbol in traditional rituals (e.g. as wedding gifts). Most importantly, carrying out the entire integrated disease management strategy required full community participation, since if only one farmer refused to stop planting potatoes this would create conditions for the pathogen to persist in the soil and spread in the community (Campilan, 2002).

During a series of community meetings and with the guidance of the project team, local farmers identified the social measures needed to accompany the technical components of integrated disease management (Box 1). To oversee its implementation, a village-level committee was formed to promote incentives for participation (e.g. introducing alternative food crops during the three-year ban) and to enforce sanctions for non-compliance with the jointly agreed strategy (e.g. imposing fines on farmers found to have planted potatoes during the three-year ban).

Box 1. Technical and social components of bacterial wilt management in Nepal


Technical components

Elimination of infected planting materials

Three-year moratorium on potato cultivation

Use of clean seed and quarantine scheme

Rouging and field sanitation


Social components

Reaching community consensus on strategy for bacterial wilt management

Formation of a village-level committee to oversee implementation of strategy

Enforcement of community-agreed incentives and sanctions

Regular field monitoring

Evaluation results showed that project implementation was sustained in one village for
a three-year period. All of the 51 farming households fully complied with the technical and social requirements of the strategy. In contrast, implementation of the same strategy came to an early end in the second village after the committee disbanded within a year of launching the project. Among the key reasons were: farmers’ perceptions about the committee’s lack of formal authority to assume “police” powers; the resignation of key committee members as a result of emerging conflicts with farmers over the latter’s performance of their assigned tasks; and the inability of individual farmers to cope with pressures to meet immediate food and livelihood needs of their own households (Campilan and Ghimere, 1998).

The contrasting experiences unwittingly provided an opportunity to compare outcomes between the two communities. Post-project evaluation carried out after the three-year implementation period revealed that in the first village, bacterial wilt was completely eliminated. In comparison, a disease incidence of 75 percent was observed in the second village (Ghimere and Dhital, 1998).

3.  From piloting to scaling up in Nepal

Following positive outcomes of the community-mobilization approach, a follow-up project was launched in 1998 that aimed to implement integrated disease management in other key potato-growing areas across Nepal. The CIP teamed up with the Department of Agriculture and district-level agricultural offices. The project team then recognized that the innovation cannot exclusively focus on bacterial wilt because farmers in potato-growing areas face several disease constraints at any one time. In addition, to reach more farmers more quickly, a more extensive approach needs to be employed for facilitating group learning to help farmers manage location-specific constraints on growing a healthy potato crop.

The integrated disease management innovation evolved into integrated crop management of potato through participatory group training, based on the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach (Lama et al 2003). Although the lack of any previous experience in potato FFS was a major bottleneck, the project benefited from an earlier programme in Nepal which focused on integrated pest management in rice. The approach for rice was adapted to suit the potato crop and the constraints being addressed. Because there was a wide variability in potato systems and constraints among FFS sites, each group of facilitators and farmers developed their own locally relevant training curriculum (Hidalgo et al, 2001). Thus, although they had a common focus on seed health and late blight, each FFS decided to include bacterial wilt, true potato seed, and/or crop management. From 1999 to 2003, 1 320 farmers in 14 districts across the country participated in FFSs on potato integrated crop management.

At the national level, the project realized that sustaining these FFS activities would require longer-term funding commitment from the government. Extension workers were keen to implement FFS, but needed funding support to travel to remote potato farming communities and to secure clean seed and training materials. On the other hand, government funds can only be accessed if there is an officially approved allocation for potato FFS from the annual budget for agricultural extension.

Thus the project published and distributed training manuals for use by local extension workers, in partnership with CARE Nepal. These materials were most useful for FFS facilitators in remote villages with limited access to information sources. The project team also joined an informal advocacy network that sought to mainstream the FFS approach in Nepal’s agricultural extension policy. Consequently, the national government officially adopted the FFS approach as part of the agricultural extension strategy, under Nepal’s national development plan for 2003—2007.

This policy support paved the way for district-level agricultural extension offices to access government funds for implementing FFS activities. Similarly, NGOs have since adopted the FFS approach to extend their outreach programmes, as this is consistent with the principles of community empowerment and locally driven development that they promote. Between 2003 and 2005, 130 FFS activities on potato integrated crop management (ICM) were implemented and funded by various organizations in Nepal. By 2005, over 4 000 farmers had already taken part.

Project evaluations indicated even wider diffusion of the ICM innovation because each FFS participant shared information with an average of 18 other farmers. Maintenance and use of clean seed was the most common ICM practice adopted by farmers two years after the FFS. Economic analysis showed that gross and net returns to land and labour significantly increased post-training as compared to before the training (Chettri et al, 2005).

However, the evaluation revealed that producing adequate supplies of clean seed remained a continuing challenge for farmers. Thus in 2006, the FFS approach was further adapted to focus production of clean seed through true potato seed technology, which makes use of botanical seeds rather than whole tubers. With funding from the Japanese government, local Nepal partners have since conducted a national programme to conduct FFS activities, this time with a curriculum centred on using true potato seed in on-farm seed production (Campilan et al, 2006).

4.  Adapting Nepal experience to the Philippines: from food supply to cash income

To determine the wider applicability of the community-mobilization approach, CIP initiated a similar project in southern Philippines in the late 1990s. However, the approach was found to be inappropriate for the Philippines because of the sharp contrasts in agro-ecological and socio-economic settings between the two countries (Table 1). For instance, the technical recommendation for three-year crop rotation was not applicable in the Philippines since Race 1 of the pathogen, which thrives for up to 20 years, was more common in the area. Secondly, the local potato growing communities did not have the same organizational structure, land tenure system and social norms to facilitate group action and decision-making. On the whole, the unsuccessful attempt to transfer the approach from Nepal to the Philippines underscored the context-specific nature of mobilizing communities for potato disease management.

Table 1.  Difficulties in adapting the Nepal bacterial wilt management  approach
to southern Philippines (adapted from Brons and Sister 1998)

Features of  IDM approach as used in

Reasons why inappropriate for the

3-year rotation

Pathogen is Race 1

Community action

More culturally and economically

Farmlands are located within geographically
demarcated villages

Boundaries for villages and farmlands do not

Farmers’ direct control of land use

Complex land tenure arrangements

Compared with Nepal, potato production in the Philippines is primarily market-oriented. Farmers grow the crop along with other high-value vegetables, which are sold through the same fresh-market chains. Thus an important complement to crop management research was a project in 2003, led by the University of the Philippines-Mindanao (UPM), which aimed to improve efficiency of the agribusiness supply chain for small vegetable producers.

Through this latter project, the potential value of marketing innovations — particularly the practice of grading/sorting — was assessed. As reported by Digal (2004), two thirds of farmers practice grading of their vegetables primarily because they get a higher price for carrying out this marketing function. Although grading entails costs, the benefits in terms of higher prices outweigh them. Moreover, grading provides more flexibility for the farmers and traders in terms of meeting the requirements of buyers. It also provides a basis for pricing their products. Thus grading provides benefits to buyers by lowering transaction costs. With grading, the uncertainty or risks of getting low quality vegetables are minimized.

However, there are farmers who continue to produce vegetables without applying value-adding production and post-harvest practices. Most of the farmer’s produce is sold in traditional wet markets where almost all kinds of quality grades are accepted. Thus, farmers continue to produce low quality products because there continues to be a market for these even if profit margins are low. If farmers are to increase income, they must be able to tap markets other than the traditional wet markets. Before this can happen, however, they need to improve the quality of their vegetables to be able to penetrate outlets such as hotels, restaurants and fast food outlets. To improve product quality, policies to improve infrastructure facilities and accessibility to credit need to be in place. Improving infrastructure facilities does not only minimize post-harvest losses, but it also improves accessibility of traders to remote areas in the countryside and therefore improves competition and minimizes monopsonistic power.

5.  Linking Indonesian farmers to multiple market chains

Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest potato producer. Over half of the country’s total production is in the provinces of West and Central Java. The average yields for potato crops grown in these regions are 10 to 20 tons/ha. These are low by international standards and reflect the suboptimal agronomic management, the unavailability of high quality seed and problems caused by pests and diseases. In 2005, a collaborative project involving CIP was launched to adapt and apply robust seed and crop production, pest management and post-harvest handling systems for potato-Brassica cropping systems (DAFWA, 2006).

The majority of potatoes produced in West and Central Java is sold by smallholder farmers who are highly reliant on the income generated from fresh vegetable sales. Enhancing sustainable livelihoods, therefore, requires not only increased productivity, but also improved farmers’ access to market chains. Since 2007, CIP has initiated efforts for action research to link potato/vegetable farmers with markets, by partnering with the Indonesian Vegetable Research Institute and several NGOs, government agencies, universities and the private commercial sector (CIP, 2006).

Fresh vegetable supply chains are highly reliant on central wholesale markets, which in turn supply urban and peri-urban retail markets. Private companies engaged in the wholesale marketing of fresh vegetables act as intermediaries between farmers and retailers/consumers. The export market is another key destination for fresh vegetables, with products sent to Singapore and Malaysia on an ad hoc basis. In addition, the rise of supermarkets is a major phenomenon in Indonesia (World Bank, 2007), which has reshaped the marketing system for fresh horticultural produce in the country.

Another major supply chain in these provinces involves potato processing and marketing. Large-scale agribusiness companies engage in potato processing through contract arrangements with individual farmers (ACIAR, 2005). Meanwhile home-based enterprises, particularly in West Java, produce a wide range of traditional snack food products through raw materials sourced from local markets/farms.

Overall, potato marketing in Indonesia is characterized by: a) multiple and complex supply/value chains; b) a wide range of chain actors extending from rural to urban centres; and
c) diverse types of farmer-actors, according to scale of production and unit of production/ marketing (
Figure 2).

In an initial participatory appraisal, market chain actors identified the following key constraints on linking farmers to markets (Campilan and Asmunati, 2007):

  1. West Java farmers have not been able to provide regular and adequate supply of vegetables because of prolonged dry and seasonal production. Wholesalers have increasingly sourced vegetables from other parts of Indonesia and internationally.
  2. The fresh market is characterized by a long market chain, with farmers disconnected from the main marketing participants through numerous intermediaries. This long chain hinders farmers’ ability to establish relationships with other supply chain partners based on open communication, developing a high degree of trust and better understanding of each other.
  3. Although there is a growing export demand, traders have been discouraged from developing this market opportunity because of a lack of capacity to deal in foreign trade and what they perceive as complex government regulations.
  4. Farmers have not taken advantage of market opportunities with large-scale and small-scale processors because of a mismatch of their products with the specific requirements of the processor. These include varietal requirements as well as consistency of quantity and quality.
  5. Farmers have extremely limited understanding of the broader market, beyond their immediate market environment, coupled with lack of access to information on market trends, pricing and demand.
  6. Although farmers have participated in various training and extension support programmes, these focus on technological on-farm improvements. There have been few opportunities to support farmer learning on marketing and entrepreneurship.
  7. In general, market-related information and reliable vegetable production statistics are limited in Indonesia. This gap limits informed decision-making on key supply chain partners in the vegetable marketing system of Central and West Java.

Currently, the project is facilitating joint learning processes by market chain actors for introducing three types of innovations to address the above-mentioned constraints (Table 2):

  1. Technological innovations — production and post-harvest practices to improve quality and reduce losses, varieties that meet farmers’ yield criteria and processing companies’ required quality traits.
  2. Commercial innovations — high-volume supply of vegetables, off-season supply of vegetables, high-quality and long shelf-life vegetables, chips/processed products made from high-yield locally adapted varieties with good processing traits, novelty products for niche markets.
  3. Institutional innovations — marketing agreements that provide more equitable distribution of profits/benefits between farmers and other chain partners, support services to provide marketing information, enhanced farmers’ capacity to comply with product standards and regulations/certification.

Table 2. Innovations for enhancing farmers’ participation in and benefit from potato market chains

Market Chains

Technological innovations

Commercial innovations

Institutional innovations

Fresh vegetable market, domestic


-Farmers’ cropping calendar adapted to changing climate (1)

-Production and post-harvest practices to improve quality and reduce losses (1)

-High-volume supply of vegetables (1, 5)

-Off-season supply of vegetables
(1, 5)

-High-quality, long shelf-life vegetables (5)


-Enhanced farmers’ capacity for entrepreneurship and organizational development (2, 3, 4, 6)


-Marketing agreements that provide more equitable distribution of profits/benefits between farmers and wholesale companies (2, 7)


-Support services to provide marketing information (5)


-Developing farmers’ capacity to comply with product standards and regulations/certification (3)

Fresh vegetable market, export


-Production and post-harvest practices to improve quality and reduce losses (1)


-High-volume supply of vegetables (1, 5)

-High-quality, long-shelf life vegetables (1, 5)

-Regular frequency of delivery (1,5)

Potato processing, through large private companies 

-Introducing varieties that meet farmers’ yield criteria and processing companies’ required quality traits (4)

-Adopting appropriate practices for seed management and crop health of processing-type varieties

Chips made from high-yield, locally adapted processing-type varieties
(4, 5)

Potato processing, through small-scale snackfood enterprises

-Introducing varieties that meet farmers’ yield criteria and snackfood enterprises’ required quality traits (4)

-Developing novelty products for niche markets (4,5)

Note: The number after each innovation corresponds to the list of marketing constraints

6.  Summary: enhancing rural institutions and markets for pro-poor research and development (R&D)

Potatoes and poverty In Asia, potato cultivation contributes to multiple food security and the livelihood goals of a wide range of actors in agricultural production, marketing and utilization. These range from the food security needs of remote farming households in Nepal’s mountains to the cash-generating opportunities of market-oriented potato producers in Indonesia. With these multiple functions and roles, potatoes play an important role in agricultural development in the region.

Potatoes are a key crop for farming households in general, but it is crucial to identify the poorer segments of the farming population and target them as participants and beneficiaries of potato research and development. As the above cases showed, there is a need for the relatively poor farmers to access and use research-generated innovations for improving their potato livelihoods.

Participatory pro-poor R&D For potato research and development to serve the needs of poor farming households, it needs to adapt technological products to the resource-limited conditions and local socio-cultural-economic contexts. In addition, variability in needs, opportunities and conditions require that these innovations need continuous adaptation when introduced from pilot sites to other communities.

Poor farmers pursue potato livelihoods alongside, and often in competition with, other production/marketing actors who have more access to key resources and are favoured by unequal power relations. Research and development interventions are therefore essential to enhance poor farmers’ capacities and resources, while strengthening relationships with other actors for shared benefits. Among others, this requires participatory approaches that are more inclusive - including not only poor farmers but also other actors in relevant production - and utilization-marketing chains.

Rural institutions and markets Successful technological uptake by poor potato farmers requires an enabling environment for potato production-utilization-marketing. In potato production, effective institutions are crucial for multiplying and supplying good-quality seed, and for collective learning-action in managing pests and diseases.

In potato utilization-marketing, effective institutions for financial services and infrastructure support enable poor farmers to participate in multiple market chains. In addition, improved performance of market chains requires key institutional arrangements for building trust and collaboration between poor farmers and other actors (e.g. organizations, formal agreements and policy instrument).


ACIAR. 2005. Notes of a meeting with Indofood Fritolay Makmur on 22 November 2005, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Brons, J. & L. Sister. 1998. Community-based pest management for sustainable vegetable production. In: Enhancing Biodiversity Conservation and Family Food Security Through Homegardening and Sustainable Field Production of Vegetables. Unpublished project terminal report. CIP-UPWARD, Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines. 1—29.

Campilan, D., 2002. Linking social and technical components of innovation through social learning: the case of potato disease management in Nepal. In: Leeuwis, C. and R. Pyburn (eds.), Wheelbarrows full of frogs, social learning in rural resource management. International Research and Reflections Series. WUR, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Campilan, D. & R. Asmunati. 2007. Informal assessment report on vegetable marketing in West and Central Java, Indonesia. CIP-ESEAP, Bogor, Indonesia.

Campilan, D. & S.R. Ghimere. 1998. Mobilizing communities for integrated disease management: comparing experiences in Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines. Seminar-Workshop on Planning the Implementation of Farmer Field Schools in South Asia, 2—5 June 1998, Kathmandu, Nepal.

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CIP. 2006. Linking vegetable farmers with markets in West and Central Java, Indonesia. ACIAR project proposal. Lima, Peru.

DAFWA. 2006. Optimising the productivity of the potato/Brassica cropping system in Central and West Java. ACIAR project proposal. Perth, Australia.

Digal, L. 2004. Quality grading in the supply chain: the case of vegetables in southern Philippines. Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing, Vol. 16, No. 1­2.

Ghimere, S. R. & B. K. Dhital, 1998. Community approach to the management of bacterial wilt of potato in the hills of Nepal: a project terminal report. Occasional Paper No. 98/1. LARC, Lumle, Nepal.

Hidalgo, O., D. Campilan & T. Lama, 2001. Strengthening farmer capacity to grow a healthy potato crop in Nepal. In: CIP, Scientist and farmer, partners in research for the 21st Century. 1999-2000. CIP Programme Report. Lima, Peru.

Lama, T., S.P. Dhakal & D. Campilan. 2003. Promoting integrated disease management through farmer field schools in Nepal. In: From Cultivators to Consumers, Participatory Research With Various User Groups. CIP-UPWARD, Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines. 59—67.

World Bank. 2007. Horticultural Producers and Supermarket Development in Indonesia. Report no. 38543-ID. World Bank Country Office, Jakarta, Indonesia.

* Social Scientist, Impact Enhancement Division and Regional Leader (incoming) for South, West and Central Asia International Potato Center (CIP), c/o IRRI, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines.

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