Uganda: Widow finds hope in farming group, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes

| October 17, 2016

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When Specioza Businge became a widow in 2002, she found life tough, and the future seemed difficult. Her husband had been the breadwinner, and the 38-year-old pregnant mother was left with three children to care for.

Over the years, Mrs. Businge struggled to find money to support her children. But her life changed in 2016 when she heard about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes on the radio. Together with her neighbours, Mrs. Businge is now growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to support her family.

Mrs. Businge recalls: “Life wasn’t easy, and accessing money to meet domestic demands was futile. When I heard a radio talk show about the food nutrient vitamin A in orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, I took the initiative to go to the sub-county where sensitization and distribution of vines were.”

Unlike traditional varieties of sweet potato, orange-fleshed varieties contain beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A. Vitamin A is an important nutrient for families, and particularly for children.

Mrs. Businge lives in Nakatogo village in Masindi district, about 250 kilometres southwest of Kampala. She learned about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes from Radio Kitara, which broadcasts to Masindi district. In March, Mrs. Businge was the first in her area to start planting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes on her one-and-a-quarter acre field.

To support their enterprise growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, Mrs. Businge and 30 other community members formed a group called Twimukyangane, which means “helping one another.” The group has grown into a village savings and loans association with the aim of saving money by selling orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

The members grow as a group, as well as having their own personal fields. Mrs. Businge donated an acre of land to the group for the project. She says: “We work together to weed, spray, and look for markets for the potatoes. When we make sales, we top up the money to buy each member household items like plates, jerry cans, dozens of dishes, and a big sauce pan one at a time until we [do this for] each member.”

Mr. Denis Muruli is the Masindi District agricultural officer. He suggested the people of Masindi change from growing traditional crops and embrace improved crops to boost their household income. He says, ”People should change … to new improved crops that yield more in a short period of time, like OFSP which is rich in vitamins besides having a competitive market.”

The group recently sold 30 sacks of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes for $8 US per sack, which gave them $240 US. Mrs. Businge says that, next time the group sells orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, the members plan to buy a mattress and a vacuum flask for each member.

Nyamusana Alice is another farmer who grows orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in the area. She says: “I am so happy that orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced in our sub-county. I now own a bicycle that I couldn’t afford [before]. Above all, I no longer spend money on treatment as I used to before, because the health of my children has gradually improved, and I am able to feed and pay fees for my children from the sale of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.’’

Tadeo Wamala is an extension officer in Pakanyi sub-county. He introduced orange-fleshed sweet potatoes on Radio Kitara. He says, “Farmers appreciated the radio program because it increased their knowledge in growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.’’

Mrs. Businge plans to expand her orange-fleshed sweet potato farm to six acres. She also hopes to buy a grinding mill to make flour and generate more income for her family.

She advises farmers not to lose hope, but to continue growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes so they can experience the benefits and support their families.