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Making profitable venture through selling sweetpotato vines.

By Caroline Namara and Sindi Kirimi

 

Many at times, when farmers are told about the many added values of Orange Fleshed Sweetpotatoes (OFSP), they can hardly believe it comparing to the local varieties they have been growing for decades. Those who are faced with prospects of poor yield due to drought, could well take cues from the story of Claude Hakizamungu who has made orange fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) farming, a profitable venture in Kayonza District of Rwanda.

Claude Hakizamungu, a 36 year farmer from the village of Bucumbi, in Kayonza district has set himself as a role model for the doubted OFSP. His farm previously had crops like local sweetpotato varieties, carrots, tomatoes and beetroots. With the support from the International Potato Center (CIP) through its Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) project funded by UKAid, he got clean OFSP vines for planting as one of the then target beneficiaries having children under 5 years. He therefore, started planting OFSP in February, 2015. After the first harvest, he decided to try his hands as a ‘’vine multiplier ’’ of the orange fleshed sweetpotato varieties.

Expanding farming land.
Claude in one of his vine multiplication plots located in Murama Sector/Kayonza District.

                                     Expanding farming land.

One would think that Claude had everything figured out when he started planting OFSP but that’s not the case. He had such a humble beginning.  He started by renting a small piece of land (2 are), but has now bought two large pieces of land totaling to 10.8 Ares. As we write, he has harvested over 6 times now and has made close to US $ 4,800 with half of it from only this last season. Claude used to grow other local sweetpotato varieties but after experiencing the higher yields of Orange Fleshed Sweetpotatoes he gave up on the locally grown varieties and decided not to plant them anymore. He has been a small holder farmer for the last 16 years and was not able to do much compared to the achievements he has seen in the last 2 years, growing OFSP.

 

Claude in a blue t-shirt posing in front of his commercial house in Bucumbi village
Claude in a blue t-shirt posing in front of his commercial house in Bucumbi village

It is only after investing his energy in OFSP farming that he had a surplus income to start savings for any project. In the past he lived a life of hand to mouth. Orange Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) farming plays a vital role in the welfare of his family, not only as a major source of income, but also meeting other needs for the household. In the interview, he said, “my children comfortably go to private schools because I think that’s where they get a better education which I could not afford before’’. The sweetpotato farmer also revealed to us that his children love eating rice, and now he can afford a bag of rice and keep it in the house all the time.                                               

A historical reward!

In the past he has been growing vegetables for the market. However, he could only make a maximum of 400,000 Rwandan francs ($480) because for instance a sack of carrots would sell for only 2,000 frw (US $2.4). Most of this money would go to pay the hired labor and other inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.  The other advantage of growing OFSP is the cost of labor and other inputs are lower compared to that of vegetables. Sweetpotato roots and vines require only manure, some fertilizer in the case of vines production and first weeding. Due to their ability to cover the ground they do not require a second weeding. Claude is very excited to be an OFSP farmer and he quips, “it was my very first time to get a million francs and this was from OFSP vine sales”. “With this money, I have invested in constructing a commercial house that is currently operating as a business to supplement the income from farming activities.”

 

Not only has he succeeded as an individual farmer but he has been able to impact his community where the perception of his neighbors about OFSP farming has changed through sensitization. He is quick to add, “My neighbors are now asking for vines, calling them magical OFSP plants”

His plans are now to keep buying land for expansion of his vine multiplication business and renting whenever necessary so that he can meet the local demand of OFSP planting vines which has grown exponentially.

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