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CIP’s Director General’s first visit to Rwanda for the SPHI meeting and Field Trip

In October 2015, Dr. Barbara H. Wells, the Director General of International Potato Center (CIP) traveled to Rwanda to participate in the 6th Annual Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) meeting. The meeting, which was held in the capital city, Kigali, brought together over 100 participants from 14 sub-Saharan countries as well as guests from Europe, Asia, North America, and Latin America. The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘Together, 10 million by 2020’. This theme refers to the overall goal of the SPHI, which is to reduce malnutrition and increase incomes among at least 10 million sub-Saharan African households through improved varieties of sweetpotato and their diversified use by 2020.   Addressing the ‘I Love Sweetpotato’ exhibition During this year’s meeting, participants presented and discussed progress in sweetpotato science and delivery along the entire value chain and showcased innovations and impact case studies in agriculture, nutrition and health. On 1 October 2015, the ‘I Love Sweetpotato’ exhibition was held at the Villa Portofino Hotel in Kigali. Wells participated in the panel that was tasked with judging exhibition booths and gave a welcome address to the participants. She said, “it is both a pleasure and an honor to join you here today in a country where CIP’s two mandate crops sweetpotato and potato make critical contributions to food, nutrition and income security of so many people.”   Rwanda has made tremendous strides in developing models for delivering the orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), which has the potential to provide a rich dietary source of vitamin A that can significantly reduce vitamin A deficiency among vulnerable populations (particularly young children and lactating mothers). One of these models is the Rwanda Superfoods project – a value-chain approach that links smallholder farmers to agro-processing companies for production of biscuits, doughnuts, cakes and juice.  


Launch of the SPHI Steering Committee

The work undertaken in Rwanda is part of the efforts to reach the ambitious goal that was set when the SPHI was launched in 2009. Meeting in Uganda, the founding partners pledged to improve the lives of 10 million African households in 17 sub-Saharan African countries by 2020 through improved sweetpotato varieties and their diversified use. In its first five year phase, over 26 partners collaborated to breed adapted varieties and test different models for delivering sweetpotato. Now in its second phase, the SPHI has already reached two million households and increased the participation of African scientists and research institutions in spearheading the initiative.   During her Kigali visit, Wells announced the members of the SPHI Steering Committee for the second phase, which include the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) that has agreed to co-lead the initiative alongside CIP, Natural Resources Institute, Farm Concern International, Helen Keller International, PATH, North Carolina State University, The Roots, Tubers and Banana Research Program of CGIAR, Irish Aid, UKAID, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).   “This is an impressive group and we expect to see the number of organizations expand year over year as the impact of sweetpotato on people’s lives becomes more visible to governments in the region,” Wells said.  


Field trip showcases the value chain approach in action

After attending the inaugural SPHI Steering Committee meeting and the Sweetpotato for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) Project Advisory Committee meeting, Wells and other members of the SPHI Steering Committee went on a field trip to see the achievements and impact that Phase one activities were having.  

Jean Ndirigue (RAB), Lauren Good (BMGF), and Barbara Wells (CIP) visit RAB screenhouse
Jean Ndirigue (RAB), Lauren Good (BMGF), and Barbara Wells (CIP) visit RAB screenhouse

In Rusatira sector of Huye district in Southern Province of Rwanda, they visited Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) – Rubona Research Station, where they learnt of the work being done to strengthen the sweetpotato seed system in Rwanda. Production of in vitro plantlets started in 2009 with a capacity of 7,500 plantlets per month. Currently, 14 released varieties are maintained and multiplied. The most multiplied varieties are Cacearpedo, Gihingamukungu, Vita, Kabode and Ukerewe. The visitors were taken on a tour of the tissue culture laboratory, hardening shade, screen house, net tunnels and multiplication blocks.Jean Ndirigue (RAB), Lauren Good (BMGF), and Barbara Wells (CIP) visit RAB screenhouse   The next stop was in Ruhango, where CIP is working with the Young Christian Women Association (YWCA) to support commercial Decentralized Vine Multipliers (DVMs). David Matabaro, the host of this leg of the field visit, is a local farmer who received training, clean planting material, subsidized net tunnels, and ongoing agronomic technical support. “For a multiplier to risk doing vine multiplication for the first time, we guarantee them a market for a minimum amount of material, which is purchased and distributed by YWCA to targeted beneficiaries,” Kirimi Sindi, the CIP Country Manager for Rwanda explained. Today, Matabaro is making about 200-300 Rwanda Francs (27 to 40 US cents) per kilogram of vines that he sells. With growing local demand from communities and the local government, it is expected that Matabaro will get a ready market for his vines and establish direct links with RAB to renew his planting material.  

DG Wells hears from inspiring Rwandese farmer Drocella Yankulije
DG Wells hears from inspiring Rwandese farmer Drocella Yankulije

In Ruhango, the group met Drocella Yankulije, an inspiring woman whose change of fortune is directly linked to her sweetpotato vine and root enterprise. Yankulije narrated how the increase in income had enabled her to pay school fees for her children, build a better home for her family, and buy property to rent? or purchase additional land.  The visitors got an opportunity to see the prototype storage that the SUSTAIN project has piloted at Yankulije’s home for the benefit of the entire group. “Currently, when farmers harvest roots, they store them for only two days, but if the storage works, they roots will keep for six months. Farmers who have a bumper harvest will be able to store their roots until they find a good market,” Yankulije explained her motivation for participating in the pilot.   Next on the itinerary was visit to a cooperative processing unit supported by YWCA to process sweetpotato roots into doughnuts, cupcakes and bread. Apart from observing the production process and tasting the finished products, the group discussed the challenges that the cooperative faces. “Apart from some technological setbacks, the cooperative has had challenges getting initial investment funds. Their products, especially the cup cakes are delicious, but too expensive to compete with cheaper products in the market. We are developing recipes that will lower production costs and also finding innovations to deal with packaging challenges,” explained Kirimi.   This processing centre, like the other sites visited, is an example of the innovations that have taken place throughout the first phase of the SPHI, and which will be refined, and hopefully brought to scale in the second phase. As the field visit came to an end, Wells thanked everyone for the great work and collaboration, and congratulated the local partners on their successful ventures.      

About Christine Bukania