Potato (Solanum tuberosum [L.]) is one of the food and cash crops in Malawi. Almost all potato farmers in the country are smallholders with low productivity. In order to develop appropriate interventions to improve productivity, it is important to first understand farmers’ characteristics and prevailing production practices. This study was therefore carried out in October 2010 in Champhira Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Mzimba District, Malawi with main objective of documenting key baseline information characterising smallholder potato growers and their production practices in the area. The survey was conducted in five randomly selected villages in Kazingilila Section in the same EPA whereby a total of 50 households (10 household from each village) were interviewed using a pre-tested questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed to gather information on social and demographic characteristics of households, farm size, knowledge and experience with potato production, soil fertility management practices, perceived market for potatoes and challenges. In addition, interviews with government extension officers residing in the area were carried out as key informants for general information about the status of potato production in the study area. Results indicate that total land holding size is between 0.65 and 1.01 ha and farmers allocate on average 0.08 ha to potato production. Results also show that farmers were growing Rosita as the only recognised and released variety in Malawi. Also, 80% of respondents were recycling their own seed with very limited knowledge of proper seed selection. On soil fertility management practices, 98% of farmers were applying chemical fertilisers mainly as 23:21:0 + 4 S and CAN or Urea. Sixty eight percent of farmers were also applying manure as a source of organic fertilizer to their crop. However, the average yield was 6 tons/ha, compare national average of 11.9 t/ha in 2008. Farmers and extension staff mentioned pests and diseases, limited access to improved varieties and clean seed, low soil fertility and limited knowledge of crop management as main constraints that affect potato production in the area. Based on these results technical issues, areas of research interventions and recommendations for improving potato production in the area have been indicated.
Key words: Potato, Malawi, soil fertility management, production constraints.
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