For Chebit Morunyaga(pictured above), the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) represented two firsts in her life.
“In my life, it was the first time I ever grew sweet potato… and from that sweet potato, it is the first time in my life I had money to buy a phone!”
Morunyaga lives in Tebeth village, approximately 30 kilometers from Kotido, Northern Uganda.
Like majority of the communities in the Karamoja sub-region, most residents are pastoralists. Despite the increasing commitment by households to crop cultivation in Karamoja to boost food security, cultivation remains secondary to livestock. Among the crops that are grown, sorghum is the most popular as it provides a staple food for families. OFSP is not grown by many.
While people will always associate 2020 with Covid-19, Morunyaga and her neighbors will also remember it as the year when they first planted OFSP. She is among six vine multipliers in Kotido District who partnered with the International Potato Center (CIP) and Mercy Corps under the Apolou programme. Morunyaga may not know how to read or write but her wisdom, curiosity and hard work are unquestionable, and these attributes have elevated her to leadership roles in her community where she trains other women in nutrition education.
When CIP first arrived in Kotido to provide training on vine multiplication, they had many doubters. Some residents worried the livestock would eat the vines. Others said farmers could not be convinced to grow this crop. But the CIP team knew the value of OFSP, especially for nutrition and food security. They just needed to find a few “true believers.”
Morunyaga and five neighbors enrolled in the first vine multiplication training. They spent three months tending and watering their vines so they would be ready for planting at the onset of the rainy seasons. Together, with assistance from CIP, they produced 200,000 vine cuttings that were distributed to 1,000 beneficiaries in their community. They earned close to Shs2 million over a period of four months. Morunyaga took the income from these sales and bought her first mobile phone (only 10% or less of households have mobile phones in Kotido).
After harvest, OFSP was received with great enthusiasm from the community. Ninety-five per cent of households that received vines planted and produced sweetpotatoes for the first time. The farmers appreciated the yields and the families loved the great taste of OFSP. “Sweet potatoes have so much flavor,” said Morunyaga as she pointed to a man selling boiled OFSP dishes under a nearby fig tree. “Everyone seems to like them.”
OFSP is showing early promise in helping improve food and nutrition security for families in the Karamoja region. Morunyaga says she sees young children stealing it from the fields. They love the sweet taste when they chew it raw.
Some households have begun eating OFSP leaves as well, which is especially rare in Uganda. Finding more ways to use and cook OFSP will help boost its popularity and consumption and more households will begin cultivating vines to sell for extra incomes. The future for OFSP in Uganda appears bright.
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This story is sponsored by International Potato Center