Potato harvest on Tanna, 2015.

Fern Napwatt

Communities on some parts of West Tanna have experienced low potato production, due to dry weather in the last quarter of 2016.

An officer from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), who wished to remain anonymous, said farmers on the western part of the island who were given potato to plant have faced some difficulties with the potato production during harvest last month.

“Bags of potatoes were distributed to communities last year in March to be planted and this was the season for planting- March to June and then again on the last quarter of September to December which did not work out to their expectation,” he said.

“The potatoes sprouted but then withered because of the severe hot and dry weather we had last year, though the small farmers have planted after the season began and were looking forward to the La Nina period but we experienced an overlap of the El Nino that affected the potatoes and did not produce any tubers.”

A farmer by the name of Elizabeth Sam from Whitegrass said that she had to replant half a hectare of land with manioc after the potatoes she planted last quarter wilted.

“The potatoes were growing healthily to some inches tall and we cleared out the weeds as they were competing only to have the potatoes not yielding and eventually withered,” she said.

Another farmer who has experienced the same loss, Andrew Napwatt who is the Agriculture officer for Lenakel Presbyterian College on Tanna, said potatoes were growing well on this part of the island compared to what happened last December.

“I have planted potatoes under the school project with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and it was a success as we have harvested healthy potatoes in the first season but this time around i lost 7 plots of potatoes that was 20 bags planted to the very dry weather,” he said.

Dan Dempsey from Sowers & Growers (S&G), another company who has also trialed out SG1 potato on the island of Tanna agreed that weather was the main cause of potatoes not producing during the September-December period.

“Also remember that both the DARD and S&G potato growers were growing in the hardest time of the year, coupled by weather patterns that hit Tanna hard (El Nino followed by a failure for La Nina to develop) extending the dry season into the wet season,” he said.

Mr Dempsey continued to explain that certain areas can grow potatoes and certain areas cannot and the trial done by S&G was to identify such spots and work on it.

“S&G has identified promising areas and we will be looking at ways of improving the yield and it will because failure is not an option- we have had amazing success and we will be working with farming communities in Tanna that show promise,” he said.

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