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Uganda: Healthy harvest, healthy family thanks to orange-fleshed sweet potato

This story was first published October 2016

Sixty-eight-year-old Augustino Kyagagambi has vowed to continue growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes for the rest of his life—because the crop is healthy and provides him with a good income.

Mr. Kyagagambi lives in Kihiri village, in the Kabale district of western Uganda, with his wife and eight children. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes provide vitamin A, which improves the health of Mr. Kyagagambi’s family. He says, “It is very annoying to fail acquiring vitamin A from hospital, yet we grow it locally, which makes it easily affordable.”

Mr. Kyagagambi says he first learned about the importance of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes during a speech by the former prime minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi. He recalls, “The former minister felt angry with residents who sold the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to Kampala city rather than eating [them], since [local] children were malnourished.”

That was years ago, and Mr. Kyagagambi had not been growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. But Mr. Mbabazi’s statement touched him and he began growing the crop immediately.

He has two acres of reclaimed swampland on which he grows four varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes—Kabuja, Vita, Naspot 12, and Naspot 13. His family consumes most of the harvest, and he sells the surplus of about 30 sacks per month to St. Adrian Seminary School in Kabale. In 2016, this earned him a monthly income of about $600 US.

Apart from selling orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, Mr. Kyagagambi also earns additional income at harvest time by selling the vines for planting materials. He harvests his potatoes three times a year.

Orange-fleshed sweet potato is not only nutritious, but also quite delicious, according to Mr. Kyagagambi. He says his children and others prefer the potatoes over other foods. He enjoys it fried or mixed with groundnuts and avocado. He adds, “I can enjoy eating the whole plate, the whole day.”

Mr. Kyagagambi and other farmers have formed an association called Lead Mothers, which has 60 members. In order to join, farmers must be growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

Although many farmers are benefiting from growing the crop in Uganda, Mr. Kyagagambi says farmers face a number of challenges, including pests and diseases, rodents, climate change, and the high costs of spraying chemicals.

Despite these challenges, Mr. Kyagagambi says his orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are always very big in size.

Stephen Justin is an agricultural expert at HarvestPlus in Uganda. He says that participatory radio campaigns recently conducted by Farm Radio International, in collaboration with HarvestPlus and TRAC FM, have helped farmers like Mr. Kyagagambi to benefit from and know more about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes—particularly their nutritional benefits.

Mr. Justin adds, “This project succeeded in raising awareness of orange sweet potato across thirteen districts of Uganda.”

Although the radio programs about orange-fleshed sweet potato are no longer on air, Mr. Kyagagambi says he will continue growing the crop.

He plans to process orange-fleshed sweet potatoes into flour for cooking mandazi, a local snack of fried dough. He also plans to double his production of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, and to purchase a motorcycle and a solar panel for his house. Paying school fees is no longer a challenge for Mr. Kyagagambi, because orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a reliable source of income.