Better lives with sweet potatoes

Flour made from sweet potatoes can be used to make a range of products. PHOTO BY Fred Muzaale

What you need to know:

A nutritious sweet potato variety is growing in popularity and becoming an important strategy to improve vitamin A deficiency across Uganda.

A nutritious sweet potato variety is growing in popularity and becoming an important strategy to improve vitamin A deficiency across Uganda.

Orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) is rich in vitamin A and is being disseminated with support from USAID under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

OFSP has now been adopted by over 55,000 Ugandan farming households, with up to 237,000 households expected to be planting and eating it by 2018. In 2013, two more varieties of this potato were released, bringing the total number to six.

The potato was introduced in 2007 by HarvestPlus, a part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. “Uganda was selected to pilot OFSP breeding and dissemination because sweet potato is grown by over 44 percent of Ugandan farmers and is the fourth most important staple food in the country,” explained Anna-Marie Ball, HarvestPlus country manager for Uganda.

Increased interest
Recent figures released by the International Potato Center indicate that OFSP is an important source of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor to vitamin A. Just 125 grams of a fresh sweet potato root from most orange-fleshed varieties contains enough beta-carotene to provide the daily provitamin A needs of a preschooler.

Agricultural extension staff work closely with farmers’ groups and other parties to ensure widespread OFSP availability and sustainability. Ball believes that if enough people receive the vines, plant them, and take good care of them, the bio-fortified OFSP variety can become well-established across Uganda.

Schools around Uganda that grow potatoes in their gardens as a main crop have shown interest in OFSP. “In Kole District, students of Aboke Girls’ Primary School are focusing on orange-fleshed sweet potatoes with the aim of multiplying the vines. The aim is to multiply them so that each student can have sufficient quantities to take home for their parents to plant extensively,” said Stephen Odong, a field extension worker with World Vision Uganda.

Kate Kyalisiima, a project coordinator with Caritas Development Organization, explains that people are interested in growing OFSP mainly for home consumption. “In Kibaale district, 53 pupils of Buruku Primary School and 18 from Rwentale Primary School actively took part in the planting of OFSP in their respective gardens. While the teachers ate the roots, the pupils carried the vines for their parents to plant at home,” she said.

Much promise
HarvestPlus provides information and training to farmers on how to conserve the potato vines from season to season.
Nutrition training is also offered to the farmers. Families learn how to prepare the potatoes, which contribute to the nutritional needs of young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, as a component of a balanced diet.

“Our beneficiaries are sensitized about the range of food preparation approaches. Besides steaming and boiling, families make flour from the orange potatoes, which, in combination with wheat flour and other ingredients, can be used to make chapatti, donuts and porridge.” said Ball.

With support from Usaid, HarvestPlus is proactively working to link OFSP farmers to markets. Through personal connections, traders are educated about the nutritional benefits of OFSP and rapport is being built between the OFSP farmers and traders.

HarvestPlus is also working with larger, commercial farmer groups (those who plant the OFSP on more than 1 acre of land) around Kampala, Mbarara, Mbale and Gulu districts and relies on their existing hubs for marketing.
This ensures that OFSP gets to the market so everyone can access them, holding much promise for both farmers and families as the crop’s popularity grows in Uganda.

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