Dr Johannes W. Ketelaar *
Potatoes are predominantly grown by smallholder farmers in Asia, mostly under temperate climatic conditions in highland production areas. The potato is both an important tuber vegetable for local food security as well as a good cash crop for farmers. Production and storage are constrained by a plethora of pest and disease problems, most notably bacterial wilt, late blight, golden cyst nematodes and potato tuber moth. Access to healthy potato tuber seeds and credit is still problematic for most small-scale producers. Substantial investment in research and development, primarily led by the International Potato Center (CIP), has led to the development of effective potato Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies. In order for farmers to master these IPM strategies locally on their own farms, substantial investments in farmer education are needed.
Recognizing the importance and potential of potatoes for local food security and more profitable farming systems, FAO is actively supporting farmer education initiatives in Asia. The FAO Regional Vegetable IPM Programme, based at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok, and its national IPM programme counterparts across Asia, are implementing farmer education programmes in countries and production systems as culturally and ecologically diverse as China, Indonesia, Nepal, and Viet Nam. All farmer education training is based on the innovative Farmers Field School (FFS) approach. Potato growers, in groups of about 25 farmers, cultivate a potato crop from seed to harvest and meet on a weekly basis to learn about healthy and profitable potato production and storage. Participatory group discussions led by experienced facilitators, and active experimentation by potato farmers is crucial for knowledge and skill development. Thousands of farmers across Asia have benefited from participation in season-long FFSs and, as a result, are now growing healthier and more profitable potato crops.
In order to allow more smallholder farmers to capture the benefits of potato IPM training, much more investment in applied R&D and educational programmes is needed. FAO, through its Asia Regional IPM Programme, is supporting action-oriented research and development initiatives, most notably on late blight and leaf miner management as well as the promotion of biofumigation for control of soil-borne diseases. The programme has also actively supported the development of potato IPM training materials. In a joint effort, CIP and FAO published an ecological guide for potato integrated crop management and an associated FFS training manual, the latter full of innovative structured learning exercises that can be employed in training of trainer courses and FFSs. These publications can be downloaded from the following Web sites: www.cipotato.org and www.vegetableipmasia.org. Most importantly, more attention and investment is needed to ensure that more Asian farmers reap the benefits of good quality potato IPM education. There also appears good scope for promotion of potato production as part of rice-based cropping systems in the subtropical lowlands. To commemorate the International Year of the Potato - 2008, the FAO Regional Vegetable IPM Programme, and its associated national IPM programmes across Asia, will put extra emphasis on potato IPM promotion and training this year so as to honour its commitment to support farmer education for healthy and profitable potato production in Asia.
* Chief Technical Adviser, FAO Inter-Country Programme for IPM in Vegetables in South and South East Asia, c/o FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 39 Phra Atit Road, Banglamphu, Bangkok 10200, Thailand.