By Moses Kigongo
Ugandans are concerned about the rising prices of Irish potatoes even when the harvesting season for the food crop is beginning.
On average, the wholesale price of a medium-sized sack of Irish potatoes from Kenya is being sold at sh145,000 from sh100,000.
The one from Tanzania costs between sh195,000 and sh200,000, from sh130,000.
On the other hand, a big sack from Mityana has risen to sh250,000, from sh130,000, whereas the one from Kisoro and Kabale has risen to sh260,000, from sh140,000.
This kind of increment has pushed the retail price from sh30,000 to sh40,000 a basin, while a heap that previously cost sh1,000-sh2,000 is currently selling for sh5,000- sh10,000.
However, traders have assured the public that the prices are expected to reduce as the harvesting season continues.
The traders that New Vision talked to attributed the surge in the prices to low production, yet the demand has been growing.
What traders say Disan Kitandwe, one of the Irish potato traders from Kalerwe market, attributed the price rise to crop diversification, arguing that most of the farmers, especially from Kigezi region, reduced on the amount grown, because the crop became less profitable last season.
The farmers have shifted to the more profitable crops, such as onions.
He noted that most of he traders have resorted to importing the produce from neighbouring countries, such as Rwanda, which has significantly increased its prices on the local market as traders hike the prices to recover transport and other costs.
Another trader, Hamis Bigirimana, agrees with Kitandwe, but also attributed the problem to the high transport costs being incurred because of the damaged Kabale-Kisoro road, which happened last week following heavy rains.
Bigirimana observed that heavy cargo vehicles are no longer allowed to cross, forcing traders to hire smaller cargo vehicles (which have become expensive because of their demand) to transport their merchandise to Kampala.
This compels them to sell the produce at relatively higher prices.
The demand for Irish potatoes is estimated to be over 850,00 metric tonnes per annum, with urban demand outpacing rural demand, according to experts from NAADS.
With the increasing urbanisation, changing eating habits by the majority of youth and high population, consumption is on the rise, offering the potato industry huge opportunities for enterprise development and economic growth.
In Uganda, Irish potatoes are grown in the highland areas of Kigezi sub-region, mainly in Kabale, Kisoro and Kapochorwa districts, as well as some parts of the central region, like Mubende and Mityana.
The two main harvesting seasons run from May-June and January.