Somalia/Uganda: Turning to sweet potatoes in the face of climate change (Trust)

| October 10, 2016

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Amina Shale grows vegetables in Somalia. But her work is growing more difficult because of worsening droughts and unpredictable weather—both effects of climate change.

She explains, “It can take a whole year before the rains come. Growing crops like tomatoes is very tiring because I have to water them at least twice a day.”

But Mrs. Shale is trying a new way to cope with climate change: growing sweet potatoes.

Mrs. Shale was among a group of Somali farmers who recently traveled to Uganda to see how sweet potatoes are turning into a booming and climate-resilient crop.

Mrs. Shale grows tomatoes, kale, and pawpaw. Many Somali farmers grow vegetables and fruits, and know little about root crops such as sweet potatoes or cassava.

Root crops require less irrigation. With less frequent and more erratic rainfall, this can be highly beneficial. They are more tolerant of erratic weather patterns, and of drought and flooding. Root crops can also be stored longer than other vegetables.

Akello Christine Ekinyu is a Ugandan farmer in Odowo who shared her experience growing cassava and sweet potato with Mrs. Shale and other Somali farmers. She says extreme weather is causing many crops to rot quickly. But by growing and processing sweet potato and cassava, she can earn a better living. She says, “I built a new brick house with the income I got from these crops.”

The key to climate-resilience is processing the sweet potato or cassava to increase their value. Many root vegetables can be processed into flour, which can be used to make a variety of products, from doughnuts to cakes.

Mrs. Ekinyu learned about processing from the Soroti Sweet Potato Producers and Processors Association. Echabu Silver is the group’s chairman. He explains, “Instead of consuming or selling the cassava when it is raw, farmers should process it, turn it into new products, and then sell it at a higher price.”

In one day, Mrs. Ekinyu can make 100,000 shillings ($30 US) selling cassava and sweet potatoes. This is much more than the $2 she earned working day jobs in town. She can now afford to send her two children to university.

The market for cassava is growing in Uganda—and elsewhere. Akorir Helen Mary is the former secretary general of the Arapai Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Uganda. He says that, in 2012, a lack of buyers cost members $4,500 in unsold cassava flour. But now, he says, “there is high demand for cassava in the market, as [it is] most Ugandan industries’—like breweries’—preferred raw material.”

To read the full article, To fight hunger, Somali farmers turn to Ugandan roots, go to:

Photo credit: TRF/Kagondu Njagi