The Power of the Sweet Potato
As World Food Day approaches on 10/16, we look at a food security success story in Uganda
Editor's Note: This year's theme for World Food Day on Friday 10/16 is social protection and agriculture. The theme acknowledges the key role that agricultural, farming, and food security initiatives can play in breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting social welfare. We're pleased to bring you a piece that showcases our work in this area, about a successful sweet potato farming program in Uganda. Our thanks to our Uganda country team for this post!
Narube, a village in Uganda’s Kaabong district, has a new claim to fame. In a period of just five months, Narube has developed a reputation for its success in growing the orange-fleshed sweet potato.
Local superstar farmers Patrick Lopwon and Helen Lokaale got it all started. They are among the people who benefitted from an Action Against Hunger food security project encouraging them to start large-scale sweet potato production and vine multiplication. The idea was to improve their household food and nutrition security, their household income levels, and their overall standard of living.
The two provided land, labor, and time for sweet potato production. Both relied on extended family labor capacity. “The most challenging part of sweet potato production is the heaping of mounds, but once you are done with it, all other operations fall naturally in place,” Helen explained. With an acre containing about 3,300 mounds, the labor requirement needed to establish a five acre garden cannot be ignored!
The impact has been profound. “My family used to experience malnutrition, poverty, and hunger because they couldn’t cultivate and produce enough food for the family due to limited access good quality, drought tolerant, and early maturing crop varieties,” Patrick said. "I have already started to reap the benefits from my hard work. The sweet potatoes have taken only five months and they are already mature. Harvesting is in progress. Each mound has a yield of three to five tubers and I’m able to get a good price for them.”
Patrick has organized stalls in Narube center, Kathile center, and Kaabong town in order to start more rigorous marketing of the harvested sweet potatoes. Both Patrick and Helen are saving; Patrick opened a bank account and Helen is linked to a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA).
Within Narube and Kathile at large, many people are now interested in growing sweet potatoes. When all crops withered due to drought, the potatoes weren’t impacted. And when people are experiencing hunger, the sweet potato growers have extra food for sale.
In addition to selling tubers, both Helen and Patrick have sold sweet potato vines. Both were provided training on agribusiness skills in August 2015. Sweet potato leaves are also used as vegetables by the two families.
Narube has become a model sweet potato production village and there is a greater multiplier effect because four other neighboring farmers have also embraced the intervention of Patrick and Helen by heaping four acres each of sweet potato mounds. In a training session with Kathile beneficiaries, when a question about who would like to take up sweet potato production was posed, all the participants raised their hands enthusiastically. The message was well-delivered by Patrick and Helen, in a practical way. And now, Narube is no longer a little-known village, it has a strong reputation for food security success.