Cultivating a New Market

Senegal set to become top market for U.S. seed potato exports

Published online: Dec 04, 2017 Articles Amy Burdett, Marketing Operations Director, Potatoes USA
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This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Potato Grower.

Can you locate Senegal on a map? It’s the westernmost point on the continent of Africa and it faces the United States, which is what potato growers in Senegal are now doing. At the current sales pace of U.S. seed potatoes, this market is poised to be among the top three global destinations for U.S. potatoes for cultivation, only three years after the first U.S. seed exports to the country.  

In 2015-16, Potatoes USA introduced three varieties of U.S. seed potatoes to Senegal under USDA-funded international market development programs. Those 50 tons of samples produced an exceptional crop for growers in fields north of the capital of Dakar working in a strip of arable land not far from the Atlantic coast. 

A few months after harvest and the successful sale of the resulting fresh potatoes in the local retail market, a team of three Senegalese visitors came to California and North Dakota to meet potential U.S. seed suppliers. This Potatoes USA-sponsored visit consisted of an importer, a grower and a government official. While in North Dakota, the delegation spent a day touring farms and learning about seed certification and the North Dakota breeding programs. The trip helped create the first commercial sales of U.S. seed potatoes to Senegal. As such, in September 2016, 166 tons were exported to Senegal

In 2017-18, Senegal is expected to increase imports of U.S. seed potatoes exponentially, according to Amadou Diop, who presented the Senegal market prospects at Potatoes USA’s International Seed Symposium on July 31. Diop projected Senegal could import as much as 800 tons of the 2017 U.S. crop. He should know; Diop is at the center of a flourishing U.S. seed potato trade to Senegal. His country’s growers are seeking drought- and heat-tolerant varieties to suit their climate. They would like to import seed ready to plant from September through December. Buyers are open to considering varying skin colors and shades of flesh.

This summer, two Senegalese growers and two government officials accompanied Diop to the United States, where relationships were cultivated for future business deals. At the Potatoes USA Seed Symposium, the Senegal delegation met with U.S. suppliers. After the seminar, the Senegal group toured the seed potato-growing area of California to learn about available varieties and to observe their seed order being bagged and stacked for export inspection the following day. They also arranged additional purchases during their visit from at least two different U.S. suppliers. 

Besides purchasing U.S. seed potatoes for Senegal commercial farming operations, U.S. seed was procured by Senegal’s national agricultural development organization, which encourages potato farming to improve rural lives. This government program provides quality agricultural inputs to village farms to encourage community farming that reduces poverty by improving production value. In addition to being a nutritious food source, cultivating potatoes increases crop yield per drop of water, an important consideration for Senegalese growers.

One of this summer’s delegation participants was Macoumba Diouf, Senegal’s national director of horticulture. A week after returning from his U.S. visit—which convinced him of U.S. seed potatoes’ superior quality, high yield potential and suitability to adapt to the African heat— Diouf announced during his annual meeting with potato growers on Aug. 11, that Senegal’s Agriculture Ministry would subsidize 40 to 50 percent of the cost of U.S. seed potatoes to encourage Senegalese farmers to plant them. This reduced-cost seed program is authorized to cover up to 1,200 tons of U.S. potatoes. If fully realized at this volume, Senegal would become the top export destination for U.S. seed potatoes outside of North America.

Growers interested in more information about Potatoes USA’s seed program are encouraged to contact Amy Burdett at amy@potatoesusa.com.