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Uganda: Radio helps farmers find better markets for orange-fleshed sweet potatoes

It’s a happy day for Linet Nalugo Musana. She straightens up to take a short break from harvesting with other farmers, holding a hoe and a potato in her hands. From a distance, seeing hoes moving up and down, one would think the farmers were preparing land for planting. But Mrs. Musana and the others are busy digging up orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

The 48-year-old farmer lives in Mpoma village in central Uganda’s Mukono District. For five years, Mrs. Musana has been growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. She says the potatoes are the colour of pawpaw, are drought-resistant, and are rich in vitamin A.

She explains, “I was growing the ordinary variety of potatoes which was not profitable, until experts came and introduced the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to us in 2013.”

Mrs. Musana first received orange-fleshed sweet potato vines from a local non-governmental organization called Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns, or VEDCO. But she got the knowledge and skills to grow the new kind of potato by listening to agricultural radio programs on Radio Simba and CBS FM. Both stations broadcast programs that target orange-fleshed sweet potato farmers.

Mrs. Musana says that since she started growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, she has learned about planting methods, pest control, and using herbicides.

She says growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes is now more profitable. She grows up to six acres every year, and earns up to three million Ugandan shillings (US$790) per year.

She also found new buyers by listening to the radio.

At first, demand was low. Mrs. Musana sold the potatoes only through her friends. But after she learned about other marketing opportunities on the radio, she gained many buyers.

At first, she sold her potatoes to middlemen. But because of what she learned on the radio, she now sells directly to buyers.

Mrs. Musana says: “At first, the middlemen were coming to buy the potatoes, but they were cheating me, because for a full pickup truck of potatoes they wanted to pay very little money. So, I chased them away and started looking for buyers through radio.”

She supplies 45 kilograms of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to Uganda Cancer Institute each week. Mrs. Musana says the Institute gives cancer patients the potatoes to boost their immune systems. The Institute and various schools are now her major clients—and she found them by listening to the radio.

Munyumya Habibu grows orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in Luwunga village, also in Mukono District. He rents land to grow the potatoes and earns up to four million Ugandan shillings (approximately $1,050 US) each year.

Mr. Habibu says the radio programs and the training he received from VEDCO helped him find better markets. Now, he has built a permanent house, bought a cow, and paid school fees for two of his late brother’s children.

Annet Draru is a panelist on Radio Simba’s agricultural programs. She says radio is playing a pivotal role in teaching farmers and linking them to markets, and that this has changed the lives of many farmers who grow orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

She adds: “Musana and Munyumya are among the many people in the rural communities who have benefited from growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes through listening to radio and using radio to market their produce.”

Mrs. Draru says orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are key to improving nutrition and incomes in Uganda’s rural communities.

Finding buyers through radio programs has enabled Mrs. Musana to pay for her children’s education, which has changed her family’s life. She says: “Two of my children have graduated from Uganda Christian University with bachelor’s degrees in business administration. One is about to complete engineering from the same university and the last one is joining Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in meteorology.”

Financial support for this story was provided by HarvestPlus (www.HarvestPlus.org), a global alliance of agriculture and nutrition research institutions working to increase the micronutrient density of staple food crops through biofortification. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of HarvestPlus.

This story was originally published in April 2018.