Adam Bemma | August 25, 2014
Perpetua Okao pulls a ringing mobile phone out of her pocket. She responds to the caller, “Yes, I may still have some vines. How many do you need?”
Mrs. Okao tucks the phone back into her pocket. She explains: “I’m the chairperson of Atego Farmers Women’s Group. We’re not only women farmers. We also have five men in the group. All members grow orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.”
The 63-year-old mother of 10 is a farmer in Atego village, about three kilometres from Lira, in northern Uganda. She grows orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to eat and sell. But she also makes money providing other farmers with the potato vines that are required to plant the crop.
Monica Acan is a broadcaster at Radio Wa, a radio station which targets people in the Lango sub-region, which includes Lira. She is both the host and producer of the Saturday night program, Wa Farmer, which means “Our Farmer” in the local Luo language.
Ms. Acan says: “Perpetua [Okao] is a vine multiplier, which means she grows the crop and [then] sells [the potato vines] to other farmers in the area. She’s the only woman around doing this.”
In July 2013, Farm Radio International and Radio Wa teamed up to launch Poto Wa Tin [Our Garden Today], a program which airs live every Monday evening. It is edited and re-broadcast on Friday afternoons.
At the end of each program, Ms. Acan reads Mrs. Okao’s phone number on air, as well as those of three other vine multipliers in the region. Ms. Acan says: “On the show, I promote orange-fleshed sweet potato, its nutritional aspects, the agronomic practices, as well as marketing and value addition of the crop. It airs in the evening so women farmers returning from the fields can tune in to listen.”
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, like carrots, pumpkins and other orange-fleshed foods, are rich in beta-carotene, a compound that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for human growth and development, and also helps maintain the immune system and good vision.
Mrs. Okao feeds the fleshy orange potatoes to her children. She is convinced that they benefit from the sweet, tasty tubers. She advised a friend that the woman’s sick baby twins would benefit if the mother added the nutritious potatoes to her children’s breakfast porridge.
Mrs. Okao reports: “I’m happy to say the twins are both very healthy now. Besides porridge, you can also make bread and juice with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.”
Mrs. Okao flips through a ledger book with the names and details of farmers who have purchased bags of vines from her, some on numerous occasions. She receives calls from all across northern Uganda. Farmers from as far away as Pader, Kitgum and Gulu have purchased vines.
Mrs. Okao says: “Since I started vine multiplication last year, I have distributed orange-fleshed sweet potato [vines] to 380 farmers. It has improved my household income. I was able to buy pigs and a cow and pay my oldest son’s school fees at a teacher’s training college.”