To farmers like Dickson Kamtedza, sweet potato production has been a part of life. The conventional sweet potato varieties are everywhere and he has cultivated every bit of them. However, in the present, the joy of reaping maximum food and financial benefits from the crop lies in cultivating improved varieties. Switching to growing the improved sweet potato varieties was the last thing that Kamtedza wanted most, but he had nowhere to source planting materials to grow the improved varieties.
In Malawi, sweet potato is regarded as one of the food crops besides maize. Smallholder farmers prefer the crop because of its short growth cycle which allows them to harvest more than once a year. It is also cheap to produce as compared to other crops.
Government and other research and development organizations are now promoting the production of improved varieties of biofortified, vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) among farmers. However, most farmers have been faced with the challenge of limited access to vines required for growing the improved sweet potato varieties.
Kamtedza comes from Mkupila village in the area of Traditional Authority Chikumbu in Mulanje, and is one of the farmers who were most challenged. His dream of ever cultivating the improved varieties was just a blur. But thanks to Agriculture Sector Wide Approach Project II (ASWAp-SPII). He received OFSP sweet potato vines through the project.
“I received Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato planting materials from ASWAp-SPII. This variety is rich in vitamin A as compared to other varieties that we used to grow. We grow sweet potato mainly for food but also for sale to get money to support our families,” said Kamtedza.
ASWAp-SPII, in one of its components, is committed to improving farmers’ access to clean planting materials of root and tuber crops through vine multiplication. The project is being implemented in Malawi with financial support from five donors namely EU, Irish Aid, USAID, Flanders, and Norway, managed by the World Bank.
Kamtedza cultivated the improved sweet potato that he received from ASWAp-SPII on his 0.25-acre field with the aim of multiplying vines as per the objective of the project’s initiative. He has since multiplied and shared vines with five other farmers. Now that his only obstacle has been cleared, he hopes to increase hectarage to reap more from the variety.
“From what I have seen, this is a good variety and I am looking forward to increasing hectarage in the next season. Unlike the other varieties, this improved variety fetches high prices on the market and I hope to benefit much from it,” Kamtedza added.
ASWAp-SPII is promoting the production of vitamin A enriched root and tuber crops which are highly productive and drought resilient, with the aim of contributing to food, income and nutrition security in the country.
William Masinja is a farmer from Gowelo village in Zomba. He also received sweet potato vines from ASWAp-SPII and he said the vine multiplication initiative will go a long way in cushioning climatic change shocks.
“What prompted us to embrace sweet potato vine multiplication is climate change. We saw it right to receive the planting materials from ASWAp-SPII so that in the case where our maize has failed, the sweet potato will stand as our everyday food,” said Masinja.
Another farmer from the same village, Loveness Salanje said the improved sweet potato variety will help to transform his family.
“This is a hybrid variety, it is different from other varieties because it is early maturing; it matures in less than five months. This sweet potato will help us in terms of food and money after selling. We will use the money to pay school fees for our children. This will also help to improve production because other farmers will also get planting materials through us,” she said.
To ensure that farmers are accessing clean, improved sweet potato planting materials, ASWAp-SPII through the Department of Agriculture Research Services (DARS) is supporting multiplication of OFSP varieties through research stations and progressive farmers.
Harry Mleta, a specialist in root and tuber crops at Chitedze Research Station said farmers across the country have already started accessing the planting materials through the initiative.
“Since the start of the programme in 2019, we have managed to distribute approximately over 10,000 bundles of planting materials to farmers in different districts. Next year we intend to distribute to other farmers as well,” said Mleta.
ASWAp-SPII is working hand in hand with Agriculture Offices in the districts where the project is being implemented.
“We are working together with ASWAp-SPII, and our focus is on increasing the availability of planting materials to our farmers. This project has helped us with OFSP varieties. We are multiplying the varieties so that they are available to everyone,” said Charles Hausi, Assistant Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator (AAEDC) at Msikawanjala Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Mulanje.
He added that “So far in Msikawanjala EPA, the planting materials have reached a lot of farmers through ASWAp-SPII. Over 20 farmers have benefited through vine multiplication and we hope that the vines will reach more farmers through the ones that are multiplying.”
Hausi further said ASWAp-SPII is investing in multiplication of OFSP because there are a lot of benefits associated with the improved variety.
“OFSP contains vitamin A, which has been an issue of national concern regarding nutrition. Vitamin A improves eyesight, boosts the body’s immunity against infections and keeps the skin moist. Looking at the six food groups, the crop also supplies carbohydrates. So, we are encouraging farmers who have received the improved planting materials to keep on multiplying so that after two or three years the varieties should spread throughout the EPA and the district at large,” he added.
Improving access to clean, improved sweet potato varieties through ASWAp-SPII will contribute to reducing vitamin A deficiency in the country. This will in turn contribute to achieving food, income and nutrition security among farming families.ASWAp-SPII Making Improved Sweet Potato Planting Materials Available to Rural Farmers