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Orange sweet potato gains in popularity in Ethiopia

This week’s script of the week is a Barza Wire exclusive. Orange-fleshed sweet potato, or OFSP, is gaining in popularity all across Africa, including in Ethiopia. This script shows what is happening on the ground in two parts of southern Ethiopia in terms of uptake of this nutritious and delicious tuber. You can dowload a Word version of the script  here: Orange sweet potato gains in popularity in Ethiopia [1]

Notes to broadcaster

In Ethiopia, food insecurity can cause malnutrition, and malnutrition particularly affects pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five. Vitamin A deficiency affects the development of the young brain and increases the risk of blindness and poor immunity to disease.

The International Potato Research Centre is implementing a project to distribute orange sweet potato varieties in the Sidama and Wolatya zones of the Southern Region of Ethiopia to prevent and reduce vitamin A deficiency.

This script shows what is happening on the ground in these areas, which are known for growing tubers such as sweet potatoes. It is based on interviews with farmers who have been affected by vitamin A deficiency, and with agricultural experts.

You might choose to present this script as part of your regular farming program, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.

You could also use this script as research material or as inspiration for creating your own programming on orange sweet potato or other nutrient-rich crops.

Talk to farmers, nutritionists and agricultural experts. You might ask them:

What are the dietary deficiencies in this area? What foods can be promoted to address these deficiencies?

What are the major production and marketing challenges for growing these foods, and what solutions have farmers found to address these challenges?

What are the market opportunities for growing these crops?

Where can farmers turn if they need advice on growing these crops?

Note: A kebele is the smallest administrative unit of Ethiopia. It is similar to a ward or neighbourhood. Kebeles are part of woredas, or districts, themselves usually part of a Zone, which in turn are component parts of the nine Regions of Ethiopia.

Estimated running time: 20 minutes, with intro and outro music

Traditional Ethiopian music. Fade under host.

Host:  Southern Ethiopia is widely known for growing tubers such as sweet potatoes. Borecha is one of those woredas where sweet potato is grown. But it is not a popular food, and recipes for preparing meals with sweet potato are limited.

In the last few years, orange sweet potato has been introduced to the area, and farmers have started seriously growing it.

We wanted to speak with some of the farmers in the area, so we travelled 325 kilometres from Addis Ababa to Borecha woreda in the Sidama Zone. We journeyed by motor bike for the last 37 kilometres. The wind was blowing and the skies were clearing. The rainy season had just ended and the farms were green with false banana, coffee plantations and maize on both sides of the road, making us forget our weariness. We ended our journey at Aledada Dela kebele.

Sound of motor bike

Host:   When we arrived, local farmers were holding a group discussion. They welcomed us with smiles when they heard the sound of our motor bike.

After a customary greeting, they invited us to sit under a tree, and asked us to explain the purpose of our visit. We explained that we wished to talk with them about orange sweet potato. Here are some of the things that the farmers said:

Vox pop:  “The orange sweet potato is benefiting our children a lot.”

“We are now widely growing it in our area.”

“It was not customary for men to eat it; [but] we have realized that it is an essential food for pregnant and nursing women and children.”

“Our demand for vines must be fulfilled so that we can widely grow it in the future.”

“We are happy to realize that it can make up for our vitamin A deficiency.”

“We are now producing different kinds of foods.… We are making soup, injera, bread, porridge and the like!”

Host: This area is well known for growing fruit trees. I understand that you also grow sweet potato widely and have started growing the orange sweet potato. What is it like? Fantu Belete?

Fantu Belete:  After being trained by the experts last year, we have been growing it and using it to make many different kinds of food. We have realized that it has great benefits for women and children.

Host: Where do you get information about orange sweet potato?

Fantu Belete: The experts told us to listen to a radio program that is broadcast in our language, and I am listening to it regularly.

Host: Farmer Fantu and other local residents told us they have been growing sweet potato widely for years, but never used it as an essential food. But traditionally, sweet potato was never served to men. We asked farmer Kidanu Yohannes about this.

Why did men not eat sweet potato?

Kidanu Yohannes: It was taboo to serve sweet potato to men. (LAUGHS) We used to believe that if men ate sweet potato, they would become impotent. But now we have realized that this is not true. I have changed my attitude and serve it to the entire family.

I prepare it for my children not as an extra food, but as a main dish. I serve it in the form of injera, porridge, bread, biscuits and soup.

I can see more clearly after eating the orange sweet potato. I am also seeing improvements in the wrinkles on my skin.

Host: Farmers who grow orange sweet potato say they are eager to increase their production. Those who have not started are now asking for vines after seeing the success of other farmers. Farmers are especially happy that the orange potato helps to address vitamin A deficiency. We talked with a female farmer named Lalime Namero.

Have you and your family benefited from the orange sweet potato?

Lalime Namero: When we serve soup made from orange sweet potato to emaciated children and children with wrinkled skins, their bodies recover in a short time. We have been told that it has vitamin A. The experts told us that it is especially good for pregnant mothers and infants. We are using it for injera and foods that are eaten with injera. We will grow it a lot more widely next season.

Host: How do you cook orange sweet potato?

Lalime Namero: We cook it on a gentle fire. The vitamins will vanish if it is overcooked, so I take it off the fire before then. I am also teaching this to my neighbours.

Host: Farmer Legesse Hushete did not adopt the orange sweet potato when it was first introduced.  But he has been convinced by what he observed in his village and has started growing the tuber.

Why did you not grow the orange sweet potato when it was first introduced?

Legesse Hushete: Traditionally, we did not think that sweet potato had any great benefits. So when vines were supplied to farmers, I did not take any, except for a small trial in my garden. When I harvested what I grew in my garden, we cooked it and tasted it. I liked the taste. Incidentally, I have a son who was thin; he gained weight when we fed him the sweet potato.

Host: Farmer Markos Yonas also adopted the orange sweet potato later on.

Markos Yonas: I did not start at the beginning because I was not convinced. But the change I have seen in little children has encouraged me to grow it.

Host: What change did you see in little children?

Markos Yonas: I have seen a rapid change in the growth of underweight children after eating orange sweet potato. I am happy that they get vitamin A, too.

Host: Do you eat it?

Markos Yonas: Yes, I enjoy the taste. My family eats it too.

Host:  Are there any challenges with growing orange sweet potato?

Markos Yonas: The main problem is shortage of vines. Most of the farmers in our area are interested in growing it, but we can’t find as many vines as we want.

Traditional Wolayta music, then fade

Host: Wolayta is another of the areas in Southern Ethiopia that is known for growing tubers. We talked to farmers in Sodo Zuria woreda who have been growing the orange sweet potato. As in the Sidama Zone, people here are happy with the potato. Farmers in this area received vines both from other farmers and through the project.

We talked to farmer Woyzero Marta. She was standing in the middle of her field when she told us about what she was doing now and her hopes for the future.

Are you growing the orange sweet potato?

Woyzero Marta: Yes. When it was introduced to our kebele, I adopted it first. I was trained how to grow it, how it is cooked, and about its benefits. I prepare it in different ways and feed it to my children.

Host: What are the benefits?

Woyzero Marta: That it has vitamin A, that it is especially good for children and mothers, and that we can combine and eat it with different kinds of foods.

Host: Please tell us how you prepare orange sweet potato.

Woyzero Marta: Nutrition experts have trained us to make 20 different kinds of foods from it. I prepare some of these foods for my family, and others are learning from me.

Host: Farmers Assefa Dango and Negussie Chalte in Wolayta Zone also started growing the orange sweet potato. They are happy that the crop has been introduced and is growing in their area. But they were also influenced by deep-rooted traditions against sweet potato.

Host: Here is Assefa Dango:

Assefa Dango: We have seen with our own eyes its benefit to the health of our children. The vitamin A in the potatoes is also very beneficial to pregnant and breast-feeding mothers.

We used to see sweet potato not as a main food but as a supplementary food. That has now changed, and we are working with orange sweet potato the same we do with all other staple crops. We are asking for vines so that we can grow it widely.

Host:   Here is Negussie Chalte.

Negussie Chalte: We understand now that we had a lot of problems because of vitamin A deficiency. Children were the most affected.  But now we see a change in the growth of children. The problem now is the short supply of vines.

Host: We spoke to the producers of the radio program on orange sweet potato. Endrias Bekele is a producer at Sidama Radio.

Endrias Bekele: When we started airing the program, awareness of orange sweet potato was low. I know that well, because I am part of the community. It was not particularly used by men, and it was a crop that was scorned. In fact, it was a tradition not to serve it to guests in Sidama Zone! There was a fear that if men ate it, it would cause sexual impotence.

But now the attitude of the public is beginning to change. I believe that the weekly radio program on growing and eating orange sweet potato has played a role in changing public perception.

Host:  Ato Elias Deba is an agronomist at the Boracha Agriculture Office, and the project’s focal person.

Elias Deba: It has been six years since we started growing the orange sweet potato in our woreda. This potato is nutritionally different from other sweet potatoes because it has high amounts of vitamin A. In the past, we did not strongly promote sweet potatoes because eating it was restricted by tradition. But we have been training people how to grow and eat orange sweet potato for the last two years, when the project was introduced to our woreda.

Host: What did people think of the orange sweet potato when it was first introduced?

Elias Deba: In the beginning, they compared it with the existing sweet potato and said that it didn’t taste as good. But gradually they realized its benefits, and demand has been growing. I have heard them say that growing orange sweet potato is like planting a small health clinic in their backyard.

Farmers understand that it is a good source of vitamin A and they know the benefits for pregnant and nursing mothers and children.

There has been a big increase in the number of farmers growing the crop. Two years ago, 300 female farmers grew the potato in two of the 39 kebeles in the woreda. Now we have 1,600 female farmers in four kebeles. There is a big change in awareness.

Host:  How do you meet farmer’s need for vines?

Elias Deba:   They get some vines through the project, and we are also encouraging them to share vines among themselves. More than 1,100 farmers have received orange sweet potato vines from other farmers.

Host: We talked to project coordinator Ato Abiyot about the need for distribution of vines.

Ato Abiyot: Demand is growing. So we are supporting some farmers in each area to grow the potato to produce vines. For example, 50 or 60 farmers in Borecha woreda are reproducing vines to be distributed to other farmers.

Sound of motor bike, then fade

Host: Dear listeners, we hope that you have now a better understanding of orange sweet potato farming, public perception in Ethiopia and the challenge of having enough supply to meet the growing demand for vines.

Will you, like these Ethiopian farmers, consider growing orange sweet potato for its nutritional benefits and delicious taste?

Goodbye until next week.

Signature tune then fade


Contributed by: Haileamlak Kassaye, journalist, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Reviewed by: Mariama Fofanah, nutrition coordinator, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region, CIP (International Potato Center), Ethiopia.

Project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD)