Zambia: Farmer finds sweet spot producing orange-fleshed sweet potato vines and roots in dry season (Africa Rising)

| September 11, 2017

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Aaron and Mervis Mumba are legends in the village of Kasuza in eastern Zambia, along the border with Mozambique. The couple and their two children boosted their income by creating a business growing orange-fleshed sweet potato vines, or OFSP vines, during the dry season.

The Mumbas have long grown maize, soybean, cassava, and traditional varieties of sweet potato as subsistence crops. That changed in September 2014 when they switched to commercial farming. Mr. Mumba met representatives from the International Potato Center and decided to try multiplying vines. Since then, the Mumbas haven’t looked back. They still grow other crops for subsistence, but producing OFSP roots and vines is now their main source of income.

The family has 1.5 hectares, and grow Olympia sweet potatoes on a quarter-hectare. At the end of the 2014/2015 season, the Mumbas bartered 200 bags of OFSP vines and roots for 10,000 kg of maize, Zambia’s main staple crop. Each bag of OFSP vines or roots was worth 50 kg of maize. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are popular in the village for their taste and nutritional value.

Mr. Mumba recalls: “That 2014/2015 season was a revelation to us. We couldn’t have grown and harvested nearly as much maize as I gained from this barter exchange with different farmers in my village. Because the vines and roots were in demand and I was the only supplier, we got very good returns!”

Aaron and Mavis Mumba outside home

Aaron and Mavis Mumba with their two children in front of the house. Photo credit: Simon Mudenda / CIP

Mr. and Mrs. Mumba sought advice and learned about production costs, market forces, and growing seasons. They decided to harness the underground water that was easily accessible on their farm because of the high water table, and started producing vines during the dry season. They planned to have vines ready for sale at the onset of the rainy season when many farmers are looking for vines to plant.

Mr. Mumba bought a treadle pump in exchange for 400 bundles of OFSP vines. The pump helped them grow OFSP vines and roots with irrigation water and residual moisture.

When the 2015/2016 rainy season came, the Mumbas were ready to barter their fully-grown vines with other farmers. But the planting season was just starting and the farmers had no maize to offer in exchange. So, after agreeing on the terms of exchange, the Mumbas supplied the vines. When the harvest season arrived, the farmers returned to settle their accounts.

The Mumbas decided that they are better off bartering a small amount of OFSP for maize than growing the maize themselves. In 2015/16, their quarter-hectare of OFSP earned them 10,000 kg of maize. According to the Zambian Food Reserve Agency, prices that season ranged between 85 and 100 Zambian kwacha (between $6 and $14 US) per 50-kg bag of maize.

But the changing weather patterns have not spared the Mumbas. Their shallow wells dried up during the poor rainfall in the 2015/2016 season, reducing their dry-season production of roots and vines. In 2016, they earned only 2,550 kwacha (roughly $250 US) from bartering thirty 50-kg bags of the previous dry season OFSP crop. Still, this was enough for the family to buy foods that they didn’t grow that year.

This year has been much better: In 2017, they bartered OFSP vines produced in the 2016 dry season for 130 50-kg bags of maize.

Mrs. Mumba says: “I am thankful that we got into this OFSP vine and root production venture. It is changing our lives for the better. We have been able to build a house and are now planning to save up and buy a car that will enable us to expand our vine supply even to neighbouring villages. We are still learning new things as we go along.”

Mervis and Aaron Mumba are among more than 200 farmers growing OFSP planting material as part of an Africa Rising project promoting OFSP farming in eastern Zambia.

This story is adapted from an article originally published by Africa Rising, titled “Farmer finds a sweet spot producing orange-fleshed sweet potato vines and roots during the dry season in Zambia.” To read the full story, go to: