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Mega aeroponic greenhouse multiplies potato seeds in Rwanda

The SDGP Potato Value Chain Project Rwanda was launched to support the entirety of the Rwandan potato supply chain, from seed to table. “Our job is to optimize and maximize the potato value chain,” says Aimable Uwihanganye, project manager Rwanda from Delphy.

“This project involves many different partners, from Hollanda FairFoods, Agriterra, Holland GreenTech to MoneyPhone, and of course Delphy, which is the leading partner in this project.”

An aeroponic greenhouse to produce potato seeds

One of the biggest challenges for potato growers in Rwanda is quality seeds. Aimable explains that it’s hard for farmers to access quality seeds. At the same time, growers lack organization, and oftentimes they find themselves buying seeds from other farmers. “That means that there’s little to non-existent quality checks.”

That’s why the SDGP Potato Value Chain Project Rwanda has set up a research hub where new potato varieties are researched and they are multiplied in the aeroponic greenhouse. “Delphy is the lead partner and applicant for the grant,” Aimable says. “The aeroponic greenhouse is an infrastructure that was provided by the donor, RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency), and we carry out seed multiplication there.”

This aeroponic greenhouse is one of the biggest in Africa, and because of its sheer size, Aimable rightfully calls it mega aeroponic. “The potato’s life starts from in vitro plantlets multiplication in the laboratory, and then we plant the plantlets in aeroponics where they grow into mini tubers,” he says.

Doing such a thing in an aeroponic setting allows the SDPG project to immediately solve the quality issue with seed suppliers in Rwanda. And everything is done according to the highest standards of quality control, but also of environmental sustainability.

“Every process in the aeroponic greenhouse is automated, and we rely on very skilled employees,” he explains. “Aeroponic doesn’t only ensure the best quality in the end, but it also allows to save on water.” At the same time, the water pumps consume a lot of energy, but this too isn’t a problem for SDPG. “Pumping uses a lot of electricity, for instance. But we have installed solar panels and got plenty of sunlight here.”

More than just cultivation 
The SDGP project doesn’t end with the aeroponic greenhouse though. Rather, it’s something that involves the entirety of the potato value chain, from varietal research to end consumers. “This whole thing has been set up so that not only Rwandan growers can grow high-yielding crops,” says Honorine Akoguteta, SDGP project communication manager. “One of our partners, Agriterra, will work with growers’ cooperatives so that they can learn to manage their yield well, train them on leadership and financial management so that those cooperatives can benefit the potato growers and encourage them to continue growing potatoes. Another partner, for instance, namely Moneyphone, will help growers get loans to start the season with everything they might need, with very low-interest rates. Additionally, knowledge partners will support growers get an absolute bumper crop.”

A project like this is just the beginning for Delphy, says Aimable. “As Delphy, we will do more projects like this on different crops, with a special focus on crop rotation, as there’s a quite significant lack of knowledge among growers. For instance, we’d have to research what kind of crops can be rotated with potatoes, so that it lowers the risk of contaminating the soil with diseases and viruses that would eventually affect both the yield and quality.”

Credit: Fresh Plaza

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