At a recent Potatoes South Africa (PSA) information day, I learnt a number of facts about our favourite vegetable (and the biggest-selling crop on our fresh produce markets).

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Consider the following, gleaned from the PSA booklet ‘The South African Potato Industry in Perspective’:

Africa grows 1,9 million hectares of potatoes. South Africa’s contribution is less than 50 000ha, or 3% of that. But our average yield of 44t/ ha far outstrips the continent’s average of 15t/ha. This tells us something about the prowess of our potato farmers.

The market share of potatoes locally is equally impressive. They make up 12% of the R58 billion horticultural sector, and an amazing 57% of all vegetables produced! That’s R6,3 billion worth of potatoes. What makes these statistics even more impressive is that only 561 farmers (2014) are responsible for all those potatoes.

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One of our strengths is the high standard of seed potato produced here. Healthy, disease-free seed is the foundation of successful potato production.

Informal market
Of all the crops sold on the markets, potatoes best highlight the growing significance of the informal sector. In 2014, a total of 29% of the crop was distributed through hawkers. This was only slightly less than the 35% of the formal sector, which at one stage was completely dominant. PSA picked up on this trend years ago and has consistently nurtured and developed the informal market.

Of those 561 farmers, 53% grow potatoes on less than 51ha, while 9% grow on more than 200ha, thanks to PSA’s active development programme.

Consumer consumption

I was also encouraged by the statistics on consumer consumption of potatoes in this country. About 10 years ago, South Africans consumed less than 5kg/capita, a paltry figure compared with the 100kg/capita of many other countries.

The 2014 stats show an encouraging improvement to around 36kg/capita. The once humble potato has come a long way.