Esther Mwangabula | February 2, 2015
Zuena Mohamed Kitone harvests sweet potatoes as the morning air begins to warm. To the east, the azure sky is flecked with clouds building up over the Indian Ocean coast. It promises to be a good day for farming.
Mrs. Kitone is a member of the Upendo farmers group. The group’s one-hectare farm is filled with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, or OFSP. She says, “Every person dug and planted a terrace each day until we were satisfied that we had planted enough.”
The 25 members of the Upendo farmers group live in the village of Matanzi, about 50 kilometres south of Tanzania’s main port of Dar es Salaam. The 16 women and nine men were inspired to join forces after listening to other farmers’ experiences with OFSP on the radio.
The farmers have grown traditional sweet potatoes all their lives, but were introduced to OFSP by district nutritionists. OFSP is an excellent source of vitamin A, a nutrient which is essential to good health, especially for children, expectant mothers and the elderly.
The group started growing the new crop after the Ministry of Agriculture distributed OFSP vines in the district. But the local agricultural extension officer was too busy with other crops to help them grow OFSP. So they got the information they needed by tuning their radios to Times FM, which broadcasts from Dar es Salaam.
Rose Chitala is the farm broadcaster on Times FM. She presents a program called Kilimo na vijana, or “Youth with agriculture.” Although funding for the station to create dedicated programs on OFSP has finished, Ms. Chitala continues to promote the tuber. She says, “I’m still doing [the] OFSP program. Farmers like it.”
Mrs. Kitone says, “We are happy that our broadcaster, Rose, has been visiting us and doing programs with us. We have learned a lot.”
Festo Mashuda Sebastian is a regular guest on Ms. Chitala’s program. The farmer lives in Kigamboni, a suburb of Dar es Salaam. He lives close enough to the station for Ms. Chitala to visit his farm and for Mr. Sebastian to join her in the studio for panel discussions.
Mr. Sebastian started growing OFSP two years ago, but had very little information about the crop. He says, “[At first] the vines were a big challenge to source. Then I got two bags from the Helen Keller Foundation.”
Mr. Sebastian heard about the benefits of adding value to OFSP on Times FM, and started to process his sweet potatoes at home. He turns dried chips into flour, which he uses to make porridge and chapatis. He plans to expand his OFSP planting to four hectares next year. He adds, “Times FM radio has helped me reach out to farmers though the radio. Some visit me and buy vines; others come to learn through seeing what’s happening on my farm.”
Zena Helemende is another member of Upendo. She used to grow regular sweet potatoes, but was very keen to grow OFSP. Mrs. Helemende says, “I listened to other farmers and they inspired me. I like to make chapatis with OFSP flour.” She sells enough chapatis to pay for her children to go to school.
Mrs. Kitone unearths another OFSP tuber and places it carefully in her sack. She says, “The extension officer was promoting cassava. But we liked the OFSP project. We are going to continue to listen and learn through the radio.”