Sweet potatoes are the most important food crop in Uganda after banana and cassava. According to the last agricultural census report of the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) we produce 1.8 million metric tonnes of sweet potatoes a year grown on an estimated 440,000 hectares.
Globally Uganda is only next to China in sweet potato production and the leading producer in Africa.
Scientists have developed the sweet potato to reduce under nutrition in Uganda. The orange fleshed sweet potato (bio-fortified potato) has been enhanced with vitamins and is highly recommended for consumption by pregnant and lactating women.
Sweet potato tubers are consumed as cooked human food but they may be processed into such products as pancakes, chapatti, chips, juice, bread, and composite flour (mixed with soya, millet, or maize flour).
Young sweet potato leaves may also be eaten as vegetables. Sweet potato residue such as vines, peelings, and roots are wholesome and nutritious feed for goats, pigs, sheep, cattle and rabbits (Dr Jolly M Kabirizi NALIRRI).
The farmer can preserve the residues by turning them into silage. The silage which may be kept for up to a year is useful in mitigating common fodder shortages and feed price fluctuations. Farmers reduce post-harvest losses when they turn the vines and roots into animal feed. They later earn money from selling animal products.
Unfortunately mainly due to pests and viral diseases, sweet potato production in Uganda is declining.
According to UBOS the sweet potato production trend showed a decrease from 3 million metric tonnes in 1995/6 to 1.8 million metric tons in 2008 when the agricultural census took place. According to the Uganda Bio-sciences and Information Centre (UBIC) our country has the potential to produce 25 million metric tons of sweet potatoes.
In order to safeguard the crop against pests and incurable viral diseases the scientists under NARO (National Agricultural Research Organization) are currently trying out a genetic engineering solution but, until parliament enacts the Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill, that effort will not stop the decline in production.
Yet given our rapidly growing population we ought to be expanding food generation to satisfy the increasing demand.