Tanzania: Female farmers say “Yes we can” to orange-fleshed sweet potatoes

| July 20, 2015

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Frida Hussain walks with other members of her farmers’ group as they approach their quarter-hectare demonstration plot. Dried banana leaves crunch beneath the farmers’ feet and mosquitos buzz above a nearby stream. The 25 women and five men weave their way through evenly-spaced banana trees toward the back of the garden, carefully avoiding the inter-cropped black-eyed peas.

Mrs. Hussain is the chairperson of Tunaweza, or “Yes we can.” The farmers’ group is based in Rundugai, a village 50 kilometres south of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every Thursday, the group walks for an hour to get to their demonstration plot. They are preparing to plant a second crop of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, or OFSP.

The 50-year-old farmer and her husband own just over one hectare of land. Until three years ago, they didn’t know that OFSP is rich in vitamin A. Mrs. Hussain used to buy vitamins for her eight children from the local pharmacy. In 2013, Tunaweza received the vines necessary for planting OFSP. The couple was trained on how to grow the nutritious crop through the farming group.

Mrs. Hussain says OFSP helps overcome vitamin A deficiencies and provides an income. Its nutrients are especially important for pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

Mrs. Hussain says, “I know the value and nutrition of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Now I eat them at home—and my children eat [them too].”

During their weekly meetings, members of Tunaweza discuss the latest OFSP farming techniques introduced by their local extension worker. They then put them into practice.

The farmers know the vitamin A-rich crop is good for their families’ health. Even though they sell their products at local farmers markets, the farmers are still unsure how the crop will help their families’ wallets.

Mrs. Hussain sells both traditional and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in the market. She sells both varieties for the same price. At the moment, many buyers do not understand the difference between traditional sweet potatoes and OFSP.

Esther Mwangabula is Farm Radio International’s media liaison officer. She saw the role radio played in encouraging buyers in Mkuranga district, 60 kilometres south of Dar es Salaam, to pay more for nutritious orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

Mrs. Mwangabula says, “There was no market for OFSP because people didn’t know much about them. But after Radio Maria started broadcasting the information [about OFSP], how it is vitamin-rich and good for health, people wanted to buy them.”

Mrs. Mwangabula has been impressed to see farmers process OFSP into flour, porridge, pancakes and chips. She says, “They can do almost anything!”

Mwanaidi Hatibu grows OFSP on her 20-hectare farm. She is very optimistic about OFSP’s market potential. Mrs. Hatibu says, “It is a good staple and it is good for business. Customers really like it.”

Mrs. Hatibu likes to experiment in the kitchen. She is constantly trying out new ways to prepare OFSP. She goes beyond the usual peel-and-boil technique and mixes her potatoes with beans, coconut, and fresh milk. With a grin, Mrs. Hatibu says, “Do you want to hear all the ways we use the sweet potatoes?”

Back in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mrs. Hussain hadn’t considered cooking and processing sweet potatoes before. Now she wants to try new OFSP recipes to feed herself and her family. She says, “We have had training and seminars—but I want to know more.”

But she’s happy that OFSP is safeguarding her family’s health—and helping with their finances!