Dhamar Potatoes, more than a Seasonal Crop

From a project supported by the Dutch to a company with 60% of the seed market share
Saqr Abu Hassan
November 20, 2021

Dhamar Potatoes, more than a Seasonal Crop

From a project supported by the Dutch to a company with 60% of the seed market share
Saqr Abu Hassan
November 20, 2021
© Khuyut

The "Yemeni-Dutch" cooperative project began in the Qaa Jahran area of ​​Dhamar with many hectares of agricultural land, before  extending to more than 250 hectares after forty years for the cultivation of potato varieties, mainly the seeds crops.

In 1977, the potato seed multiplication project was established, and Dhammar governorate was chosen as a springboard for the expansion of potato  farming in Yemen. The project went through several turns, most notably, the decision to declare it as a "government service company" owned by the Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture in 1991, after it had gone through the name "Project" and then "Center".

In the same year after the management of the project was entrusted to the Yemeni staff, the Dutch side moved away from the management, and their role was limited to the supervisory and guidance of its activities; In reality, it was the Dutch who had pioneered this massive project to serve agriculture in Yemen. An agricultural engineer, Ismail Ali, said in an interview with “Khuyut”: “When the project was entrusted to the Yemeni staff, it went through various stages of deterioration to the extent that in 2005 the potatoes company was an announcement to be sold with another governmental agricultural company (the General Company for the production of vegetable seeds in the city of Sayun), to the private sector - privatization – luckily, the efforts to prevent its sale resulted in halting the privatization process of the Potato Company whereas the vegetable seeds company was sold."

Eng. Ismael emphasized that the potato company is well equipped with the required infrastructure, land, and equipment that covered its operation in the past. However, he indicated that the company has currently witnessed a positive evolution and is expanding day by day in its activities in the multiplication and production of potato seeds and other research and agricultural programs.

According to "farmer Mohammad Al-Bakhrani", potato cultivation in Qaa Jahran area began in 1977, when the "Potato Seed Multiplication" project was established with the objective of producing annually increasing quantities of seeds as a fruit of Yemeni-Dutch cooperation.

Al-Bakhrani remembers well the agricultural conditions that Jahran area was going through as he told Khuyut: "We used to grow one or two types of potatoes in a very poor scale, and most of the bottom of Jahran was characterized by seasonal cultivation of rain-dependent grains."

Seeds Production Stage

The director of the General Company for the Production of Potato Seeds, Hamadan Al-Akwa'a, told "Khuyut" that: “the company is currently producing several types of potatoes; "Panamera, Diament, Fabiola, Desiree, Sagitta, Barca, Condor, Sifra, Silvana, Lucinda", on the farms it runs or in the fields of the annually contracted farmers.”.

According to Al-Akwa, the company has made a   great strides over the past few years,  increasing its annual production from 2,000 tons to 5,000 tons, and its total revenues  were 1.60 billion YRs in 2019.

He added that in 2019, the government farm of Ribat al-Qalaa was reclaimed and cultivated in the Yareem area of Ibb governorate – 47 hectares, in addition to a plan to cultivate the government’s Shara’a plains in Dhammar, whose area is estimated at 100 hectares, during the next season.

Al-Akwa explained that the stage of multiplication and dependence on seeds that are imported from the Netherlands is over and the company went into the stage of seed production through a gradual reduction in imports until reaching the point of total local seeds production.

President Al-Hamdi Era

The potato seed multiplication project  was launched during the era of President Ibrahim al-Hamdi, and the city of Dhammar was chosen as the  center of the project, which within decades turned into a company that owns about 60% of the potato seed market share in the country, according to the assurances of agricultural engineer Ali Amer.

Khuyut was informed that the selection of Dhammar Governorate was due to its ideal climatic conditions which allows it to expand its agricultural land, which can become potato fields. He says that Dhammar governorate is currently ranked second in the percentage of the vegetables planted areas and the first in terms of potato seed production in addition to very advanced ranks in terms of the quantity of production at the level of Yemen compared to other governorates.

In Dhamar Governorate, there are a number of farming beds; the most important and most famous of them are Qaa Jahran, in addition to the field, Sammah, Shara’a, Bisan, which produces large quantities of potatoes and other agricultural varieties, especially in Qaa Jahran and Shara’a, where hundreds of tons are produced annually and marketed all over Yemen.

Amer added that the reliance of many farmers on traditional seeds propagation reduces the production quantity in the agricultural fields. Noting that one ton of imported potato seeds produces about 11 tons, and its productivity drops dramatically after the fourth season, reaching nearly a third with lower quality.

Agricultural engineer Khalil Abdelwarith, who is considered one of the founding generation of the company in its early stages, stated in an interview with "Khuyut" that the company has introduced new varieties after a series of experiments in several Yemeni regions with the aim of "acclimatizing" them, on top of those varieties "Desiriah with the red crust." 

He mentioned the extensive experiments that have been conducted to produce varieties with high yields and low water supplies, as well as resistance to agricultural pests and diseases. During the past three years, 16 varieties of potatoes have undergone a process of research and experiments, with the aim of preserving and protecting them from deterioration.

He added that the researching process and experiments are not limited to potatoes crop, but it has been extended to include 31 varieties of barley, wheat, and legumes, in partnership with some national entities such as the General Authority for Agricultural Research and the General Cooperation for the Production of Improved Seeds.

Agricultural Council

In Dhammar Governorate is the headquarter of three governmental agricultural establishments: The General Authority for Research, the General Corporation for the Production of Improved Seeds, and the General Company for the Production of Potato Seeds, all of which have a sound infrastructure.

In late February 2018, the Agricultural Coordination Council in Dhammar Governorate was founded, and its membership included the General Authority for Agricultural Research and Extension, the General Organization for Improved Seed Multiplication, the General Company for the Production of Potato Seeds, the Agriculture and Irrigation Office, the Agricultural Cooperative Union, and the College of Agriculture - University of Dhammar, and dairy farms", with the mandate of close coordination in a way that contributes to promoting agricultural development in Dhammar. However, after the resignation of the former governor of Dhammar, Mohammad Hussein al-Maqdashi, in June 2019, that council vanished.

Potatoes for frying and cooking

Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine at Dhammar University, Dr. Fawaz Al-Munifi, pointed out to "Khuyut" that the potato is the fourth most important agricultural crop in the world which comes after wheat, rice and corn. This is due to its economic and nutritional significance.

He said that potatoes were introduced to Yemen during the Turkish occupation in the first half of the nineteenth century, and in the second half of the twentieth century, the Egyptians introduced some varieties of potatoes to Yemen, and the process of expanding their cultivation began since the late seventies of the last century.

He stressed the continuation of uninterrupted cooperation between agricultural institutions and the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine at Dhammar University in the fields of guidance and research, including the execution of different research experiments related to the potato crop.

Regarding the nutritional value of potatoes, Al-Munifi explained that potatoes are gaining nutritional importance due to their nutritional values as being rich in carbohydrates by 17.1%, which is equal to bread, and even superior to it as a source of iron, thiamine, and riboflavin vitamins, niacin, and the proportion of protein in potato starch per tuber is about 20%.

Among vegetable crops in Yemen, potatoes are the most widely planted , because “this crop stays for a short period in the land, and it has a profitable economic return,” says the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture - Veterinary Medicine at Dhammar University. “Climatic diversity and distinctive agricultural environments in Yemen, has motivated the Yemeni farmer to expand its cultivation, spread, and consumption on a large scale throughout the year.” He added.

There are good varieties of potatoes for frying and other good varieties for roasting, Dr. Fawaz Al-Munifi, said: "The Diamonte variety or the so-called red flower, and this type is preferred for frying and making chips because of the high percentage of dry matter in it, while the Fabola variety or the so-called white flower in addition to the Panamera, Sagitta, Challenger, and Sputina varieties - and these varieties are called white crust - are preferred. for boiled cooking".

He explained that the spring season between "February-April" is the best time for potatoes cultivation in Dhammar Governorate; While in other areas in Yemen, such as Ma'rib and Seiyun, the best productivity is in the winter season "September-December", while in coastal areas, potato cultivation is not feasible; due to the high humidity.

Al-Munifi confirmed that there are areas in Dhammar where potatoes are grown throughout the year, such as the Hammam Ali area, Al Sharq City, Ottma, and in some areas of Raymah Governorate.

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