In Rwanda, potato is a major food and cash crop grown throughout Rwanda. Most of its production is concentrated in the high-altitude regions. These are the highland regions of Rwanda with volcanic soils, Buberuka and the Congo/Nile Divide located in Southwest and North of the country. These regions account for more than 95% of the national potato production. The other 5% of the potato production takes place in small quantities throughout the country. In the uplands potato is a staple crop and the main source of income. Rwanda also has the one of the highest per capita consumption of potato in the world which is above 125 kg per person per annum. Since the 1960s, both the potato area coverage and the total production have considerably increased. This increase is expressed by the continued growth of the potato cultivated area, the rapid production growth, and the relative increase of its consumption and uses on market.
Most of potato varieties grown in Rwanda such as Cruza, Gikungu, Kigega, Kinigi, Kirundo, Mabondo, Mizero, Nderera, Ngunda, Sangema, and Victoria were developed for household consumption about 20 years ago. Last year in February 2019, the RAB Potato sub-program in collaboration with international Potato Center supported by the PSDAG Project funded by USAID released five new potato varieties (Twihaze, Kazeneza, Ndeze, Nkuganire, and Izihirwe). These efforts are necessary to sustain the potato industry in Rwanda. However, more effort is still needed for potato varieties with specific adaptability and end users preferred traits.
One of the fastest growing sector is potato processing into Crisps and French fries. There are two potato processing plants based in Rwanda namely Hollanda Fair Food (Winnaz), and Nyabihu Potato Factory that require potatoes with specific traits such as high dry matter content, shallow eyes, and round shape. Before the release of the 5 varieties in Rwanda in February 2019, the existing potato varieties were mainly for household consumption. The RAB and CIP effort to increase the number of potato varieties available in Rwanda with the desirable traits has been very important and well received by the government of Rwanda, farmers and the value chain actors. Through the introduction of new potato varieties, farmers will have varieties that are adapted to the current production constraints, and responding to end users preferred characteristics such as red tuber color and potato for crisping and chipping.
In 2013 the International Potato Center and RAB potato sub-program introduced 42 Potato clones for field tests. These clones were evaluated through preliminary yield trial, advanced yield trial, and multi-location trials. From the initial list of 42, five clones namely: CIP398190.615 (Ndeze), CIP393280.64 (Nkunganire), CIP396018.241 (Izihirwe), and CIP393077.159 (Kazeneza), and CIP393371.58 (Twihaze) were identified to have desirable traits such as high yield potential, tolerance to biotic stresses such as late blight and bacterial wilt. These were then officially released in February 2019. The screening carried out among the remained clones revealed other six promising clones which are ready for release. Through participatory variety selection among 13 National Performance Trials (NPTs) located at Kisaro, Cyuve, Musanze RAB station and Rwerere RAB station in Northern province; Twumba, Busasamana, Gakuta RAB station, and Tamira RAB station in Western Province; Uwinkindi and Sigira RAB station in Southern Province; and Kayonza, Rwamagana in Eastern Province, farmers named these new varieties as Jyambere (CIP394611.112), Cyerekezo (CIP392797.22), Gisubizo (CIP378699.2), Ndamira (Shangi),Twigire (CIP392657.8), and Seka (CIP398190.89). These new varieties have various end-users’ preferred traits such high yield (varying between 25 and 35 tons/ha in farmers’ conditions), high dry matter content (20 to 24%) and processing qualities. The release and use of these new potato varieties will ensure more choices for potato farmers, and sustainability of potato industry in Rwanda.