As Ugandan farmers come to terms with the realities and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security, there remain several unanswered questions on access to quality inputs for agriculture, especially access to clean planting material or seed. The International Potato Center (CIP) is helping to solve this problem by making access to quality planting material of sweet potato more readily available in 12 districts of Uganda, namely Bugiri, Busia, Butaleja, Tororo, Omoro, Adjumani, Pader, Kitgum, Agago, Lamwo, Kotido and Moroto.
In these districts, CIP is working with decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs) who produce clean and quality planting material to reach 100,000 households, providing each with at least 200 vine cuttings. After this first phase, the programme will be scaled-out to more households within those districts.
The vines will be used to produce orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), which is high yielding and rich in vitamin A. According to crop agronomist at CIP Joshua Okonya, these vines are free from pests and diseases and can be replanted for the next two to three years depending on the disease pressure in each district.
Dr. Fred Grant, a CIP nutritionist in Kampala, says a child can get its daily requirement of vitamin A from just 150 grams of OFSP: “Vitamin A dissolves in fat and therefore eating OFSP roots with an oily meal such as ground nuts stew will increase its uptake and absorption by the body.” Vitamin A also improves the immune system and helps maintain healthy eyesight. The nutrient is particularly important for pregnant mothers and children under five years. Grant says, “OFSP is not only rich in Vitamin A but also contains other essential micronutrients including zinc, iron and potassium, and vitamins C, E and B. Sweet potato is also rich in dietary fibre, which is essential for keeping the digestive system healthy and preventing conditions such a constipation, diarrhoea and dyspepsia.”
Reaping good returns
Farmers in eastern and northern Uganda have begun investing heavily in vines for multiplication of OFSP varieties and are reaping good returns on these investments. Norman Kwikiriza, an agriculture economist with CIP, says there is market for vines in these areas because they suffer from droughts which appear to be intensifying with climate change. Also, rising awareness of the need for planting material free from pests and diseases and the demand for nutritious OFSP varieties is increasing demand.
Most DVMs buy certified OFSP vines from tissue culture laboratories in Kampala and do the multiplication during the dry season, so that the vines can be ready at the start of the rainy season, when demand is highest. A single DVM can harvest up to 80 bags of vines from an area of about 0.25 acres.
The success of OFSP is changing gender relations in farming. Sarah Mayanja, a CIP gender expert says that because the business of vine multiplication is so lucrative, sweetpotato is no longer considered to be a woman’s crop.
Fresh sweet potato roots can be prepared in many ways: boiled, steamed, mashed or roasted. They can be fried in oil as wedges for a morning snack, or as thin slices to make crisps. Sweet potato roots can also be sliced, sun-dried and stored for later consumption as “amukeke.” Fresh roots can be pounded, dried and milled to make flour, which can be mixed with sorghum or millet and made into “atapa” with tamarind pulp.
Variety of uses of the flour
Flour from OFSP varieties can also be used to make porridge for babies and adults. Boiled OFSP roots can be mashed into a puree, which is then used as ingredient in baking to make a range of products, including mandazi, bread, donuts, cakes, cookies, biscuits and chapati. The puree replaces 30-40% of the wheat flour making the baked product healthier for consumption. Leaves of OFSP varieties are also rich in Vitamin A and can be eaten as green vegetables similar to “nakati,” “dodo” (Amaranth) and “egobbe” or “ebo” (cowpea leaves).
Joshua Okonya, a CIP crop agronomist, says sweetpotato is easy to grow and performs well in most agro-ecologies in Uganda. He says that this wonder crop is highly tolerant to weeds, tolerates poor soils, and requires less labour, pesticides and fertilisers compared to other crops.
Sweet potato promotion in Uganda is part of the DDBIO program funded by FCDO (formerly DfID). CIP is leading this programme in partnership with the World Food Programme, Lutheran World Federation, Mercy Corps, and Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization.
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This story is sponsored by the International Potato Center