Sack potato farming has become a hit in Bulawayo where small-scale farmers, especially women, are forming associations to venture into the lucrative farming business.
Planting potatoes in sacks, a practice which was adopted from Israel and the United States, is fast becoming popular in Bulawayo and elsewhere in the country where almost every household has potatoes planted in their backyards.
Several co-operatives have since last year sprouted in areas around Bulawayo where women come together to venture into the project.
Joice Ndlovu, chairperson of Hlanganani Co-operatives, which comprises 34 members, said they started with an initial 800 sacks of potatoes.
"We started this potato production project as a group this year after we saw others doing it in Harare. We have about 800 bags of potatoes that we planted on 14 February this year," said Ndlovu.
"The plants are now about two months old and we are hoping next month we will be harvesting. If the venture proves lucrative, we intend to increase the number of plants."
She said they decided to venture into the project in order to feed their families.
Patrick Jazi from Mzilikazi suburb said sack potato planting was good because it offered high yields per hectare when compared to the traditional way of potato farming.
"This type of farming is not labour intensive as we can do it as individuals or groups," he said. Jazi said following the recent ban by government of imported agricultural foods, sack potato farming would ensure that there was no shortage of potatoes on the market.
However, some farmers said they were disappointed after the sack planted potatoes yielded poor harvest.
"This type of potato farming is tricky. I did everything that I was told by the Agritex officers [Zimbabwe's Dept. of Agricultural Technical & Extention Services] but I harvested almost nothing," said Marylyn Moyo from Tshabalala. "I was told that each sack could produce between 20-25 potatoes but mine were producing two or three potatoes and sometimes zero."
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) coordinating consultant, Gerald Bhebe said potato sack farming was not as easy as some people believed. He said there were many key critical factors that farmers needed to be aware of when venturing into the business.
"Farmers should know that there is a possibility of harvesting between zero to 30 kg per sack. This means that it's possible for a farmer to harvest nothing if he or she does not manage them properly. There must be proper feeding and application of proper fertilisers," said Bhebe.
He added: "Farmers wrongly think that when the sack is full of soil then they should expect the sack to be full of potatoes. It is important for farmers to extensively consult experts so that they get proper information."
The technology enables farmers with small pieces of land to produce large potato volumes using small amounts of fertiliser, water and labour input.
Under the sack system, the potatoes are planted in 25 to 50 kg bags filled with fertile soil.
Once the plant sprouts, more soil is gradually added to the bag until it is full.