Sweet potatoes could boost food security

19 May, 2024 - 00:05 0 Views
Sweet potatoes could boost food security

The Sunday Mail

Word From The Market with Simon Pande

IN recent years, sweet potato production has been steadily increasing in Zimbabwe.

This can be attributed to the crop’s low cost of production and, more importantly, its resilience and ability to withstand low moisture levels. With the adverse weather effects associated with the El Niño phenomenon, sweet potatoes have become a strategic crop and alternative source of essential nutrients.

These characteristics of sweet potatoes have been tapped into under broader climate change mitigation efforts, as reflected in their integration into mainstream Government initiatives under the Food and Nutrition Security cluster in the National Development Strategy 1.

The Government is deliberately promoting sweet potato production across the country because it is a nutrient-dense and environmentally friendly root crop that can provide income for farmers and addresses malnutrition.  Under the Presidential Rural Development Programme that was launched in 2021, communal farmers are being given sweet potato vines for free to encourage production.

So far, around 3,6 million virus-free vines have been distributed and 1,8 million households are set to benefit by 2025.

Under the scheme, each household is allocated 50 vines. Apart from achieving household food security and nutrition, the scheme also seeks to improve household incomes through selling sweet potatoes locally and in export markets.

In a deliberate approach to promote the sustainability of the project, the Government is training farmers on the need to use pest- and disease-free vines, as well as good agronomic practices. The vines are being sourced from reputable institutions, notably the Horticulture Research Institute and Kutsaga.

Sweet potatoes are drought-tolerant. They are easy to grow and require less inputs. They can also yield more on a small piece of land. So, sweet potatoes undoubtedly have the potential to sustain livelihoods of thousands of families in rural areas. Traditionally, white-fleshed sweet potatoes have been dominant in local production.

On the contrary, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are preferred in export markets.

It is against this background that the Government has also committed to research and development along this value chain. To this end, the Government has developed two highly nutritious and high-yielding varieties, namely Alisha and Delvia.

However, despite all these interventions, uptake of sweet potatoes on the domestic market remains low. Production has also not been high enough to spur exports.

According to the First-Round Crop, Livestock and Fisheries Assessment Report, sweet potato production is estimated at 276 784 tonnes, a 33 percent increase from 207 529 tonnes in the 2021/2022 production season.

Production in Zimbabwe is mostly concentrated in Mashonaland East province. During the current season, 4 159 hectares were put under production, accounting for almost 40 percent of the total area under sweet potato in the country.

Exploring value-addition channels is critical to improve consumption of sweet potatoes locally. Critically, sweet potatoes can be processed into a number of products, such as flour, biscuits, bread and puree, just to mention a few.

To complement the Government’s efforts to ensure food and nutrition security, the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) is providing vines to village business units and irrigation schemes across the country. This noble programme is meant to ensure that villagers diversify their food consumption options.

This is also meant to provide nutritious alternatives. AMA is also seized with training of farmers on export opportunities.

Recently, AMA met a delegation from the International Potato Centre(IPC) and colleagues from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development to exchange notes on sweet potato production in the country, and also in the region. IPC expressed a strong desire to collaborate with Zimbabwe in enhancing sweet potato production and productivity.

Currently, the organisation is spearheading a number of programmes across Africa that seek to improve sweet potato varieties and capacitation of farmers on good agronomic practices.

Simon Pande is AMA horticulture expert. Word From The Market is a column produced by AMA to promote market-driven production. Feedback: [email protected] or WhatsApp +263781706212.

 

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