Share your research and experience, ask and answer questions, meet your peers.

Discussion 1/2016 – Should we continue to consider sweet potato as a crop for food security and a mainstream staple or should we focus on it as a nutrition crop?

p1020084What really sparked this thought process for me was a study of FAOSTAT data for Uganda, which used to have the greatest production of sweetpotato in Africa. It showed that, over the last 20 yrs (to 2013), neither total annual production nor productivity of sweetpotato there have increased. At the same time, the productivities of rice and maize have almost doubled and their productions have trebled. The population of Uganda has meantime doubled so the per capita consumption of sweetpotato has halved. This is despite huge problems in the country with cassava and matooke bananas, the (then) competing main staples. The data also fitted with what I was seeing in Uganda and also that Namulonge has recently largely released OFSP varieties with only small improvements e.g. over NASPOT 1 in terms of total dry matter yield – fitting with the FAOSTAT data. So:


Ø  Is OF being more highly rated than root yield?

Ø  Is this because sweetpotato is now perceived by both consumers and researchers as a nutritious vegetable rather than as a staple food?

Ø  If so, is this good? Is this bad? Is a decline in sweetpotato consumption inevitably and is being classed as a vegetable a comfortable slot for it?

Ø  Sweetpotato is being touted as ‘climate smart’ (Graham Thiele, at African Potato Association (APA) meeting this year in Addis) – but as a vegetable is it becoming ‘climate irrelevant’?


I realized that I was using data based on only one country (Uganda) but it used to be the country with the largest sweetpotato production in Africa and it does have one of the best sweetpotato breeding programmes. So arguably it is leading the way! I also decided it probably was relevant to more than just Uganda: at the SPHI and APA meetings in Addis, along with the ‘buzz’ associated with OFSP winning the World Food Prize, a quick check of the APA abstracts (from lots of countries in Africa) revealed that OFSP/ vitamin A got far more hits than root yield (at least x2). It is true that elsewhere FAOSTAT data are somewhat different but also somewhat similar. FAOSTAT shows we’ve had increases in area and total production for the whole of Africa – but no appreciable change in yield from 1965 onwards. Can we stay as a mainstream staple if we don’t increase the yield?


Please join in the discussion by using the comment section below.



About Richard Gibson


  1. Thank you, Richard. This is an interesting and valuable observation, and if the FAO data are correct, should constitute a wake up call. I am not sure that there is automatically a negative relationship between orange flesh color and yield, but there may be a bit of one, just as there is with dry matter content. Breeding programs and seed systems have been focusing on OFSP for obvious reasons, but should not neglect WFSP or PFSP. And yield is always one of our most important selection criteria. We need to make sure our M+E systems are capturing what is actually going on with yields, and variety adoption. And our breeding efforts need to be demand driven as we continue to work to reposition sweetpotato (with all its diversity and potential uses) in the food economies of SSA.
    Is the apparent lagging of SP in Uganda actually due to an emphasis on OFSP? Or are there greater forces at work?
    Another question to ask is whether OFSP is automatically a vegetable. Can people eat OFSP as a staple, or is that automatically impossible.
    Thanks for your stimulating question.

  2. Thank your Richard. This is an interesting topic and as Ted says if the FAO data are correct they should constitute a wake-up-call. Ted’s phrasing implies that there may be reason to doubt these data but as we do not have a lot of alternative information they are still the standard.
    When I joined CIP I took the figures from Mozambique’s national agricultural statistics as a challenge. According to these statistics the number of farmers and the acreage dedicated to OFSP increased till 2006 and then stagnated around 150,000 households and 16,500 ha. The proportion WF:OF is about 3:1. The challenge I saw (and see) is to break through that stagnation and increase the number of hh and acreage with OFSP.
    In terms of acreage SP is less important than Maize, Sorghum, Cassava, Beans and Peanut but more important than Irish Potato and Rice and vegetables such as Tomato, Cabbage, Cucumber etc. So it is positioned indeed between the staples and the vegetables if one looks at acreage.
    What will drive that growth? I would guess that from a farmer’s perspective reliable yield would be key. And yield is weighed and value compared to inputs: labour, land and time. When working with farmers growing vegetables many reject OFSP because the cycle is too long compared to crops such as salad, cabbage, carrot, etc. Yield over time is too low. However when there are problems with labour and the control of labour OFSP may compare favourable because it needs less labour and supervision than (other) vegetables.
    On farm trials showed that the productivity of the OFSP varieties is variable and that some varieties produced less than the local WFSP. These differences were large but not significant. Some varieties appear to be able to compete with the local varieties and we are now trying to shift distribution of planting material towards these clones. However, the capacity of the individual farmer had at least as much influence over productivity as the variety: good farmers produce a good crop with any variety and bad farmers manage to achieve a small harvest even with good varieties. Thus our strategy is trying to create mechanisms for improving skills as well as shifting towards the better varieties.
    While push is reliable yield (over land, water, labour and time) there is also a pull which is demand. That demand is domestic and through the market, fresh and processed. Market and value chain developments are thus key.
    Orange and nutrition are important from the consumer side of the equation. Promoting a healthy food is good and using that as an image or brand an opportunity. But we should not forget that consumers are bombarded with many messages and that healthy food and nutrition messages compete with Coca-Cola, KFC, and all other (unhealthy) spoils of modern city life. And these brands dispose over budgets for the promotion of their products we can only dream about. Just to cite on of these: Coca-cola’s advertising budget was US$3.3 billion in 2013 and growing. If there is any correlation between that investment and behavioral change we have a challenge.
    So I believe that in addition to working on the healthy food component and image, incorporation in processed food (noodles etc.) will be the key to pull the crop through stagnation. Again, this will only work if that incorporation is cost effective. The Chinese may have something to teach us!

  3. Thank you Ted and Roland. If there is one thing I take from both your responses, it is what neither of you have said: that I am completely wrong. Roland confirms that the yields of OFSP varieties in Mozambique are similar to that of local varieties.
    To reply to at least one of Ted’s comments ‘Is the apparent lagging of SP in Uganda actually due to an emphasis on OFSP? Or are there greater forces at work?’, I would say that the greater force at work in negatively affecting SP production (but not productivity) in Uganda is MAIZE, above all its increasing yield. All the other obvious forces work the other way, e.g., diseases of cassava and banana – which makes the data all the more surprising.
    Let’s see other responses turn up. I’m sure they will!

  4. Thanks Richard for starting this discussion. I do not think that stagnation in production and productivity of sweetpotato is associated with the increased promotion of OFSP’so nutritional benefits. I support Ted that there might be stronger forces involved and I will look at it from the profitability side as compared to cereals such as maize. Whereas sweetpotato is a key staple farmers are also increasingly getting attracted to the ‘income’ part. Economic value is becoming a major determinant of the type of crops farmers elect to grow. That’s why production of cereals is far ahead of sweetpotato. The high economic value associated with cereals has also led to heavy investment in breeding by the private sector. Competition among private sector players means that farmers will always get a variety of high-yielding cultivars. I would also like to draw an example from the coffee sector in Kenya to show how economic value of a crop is important. Years back coffee used to be a major cash crop in Kiambu county but the shocks in the global market and rising demand for houses in Nairobi led to a major shift to real estate. Most of the once thriving coffee plantations were cleared to pave way to the more profitable real estate business. Promoting sweetpotato as a staple or nutritious crop alone is not likely going to increase production. We need to look at the whole value chain and ensure that farmers realize economic benefits too. Of course promoting the nutritional benefits is one way of making it economically attractive but our breeders should also continue working towards increased productivity. We live in a time when young people are starting to develop a keen interest in agriculture but looking at it with a ‘commercial eye’. If sweetpotato production will not be viewed as economically viable I do not think the trend observed by Richard will change.

  5. In the Barbados, we are facing a similar situation. Much of the agricultural land is going out of production due to housing pressure and tourism oriented developments such as golf courses. In addition to this, our main crop of sugarcane which once used to be our main foreign exchange earner, is also on the decline due to the loss of the preferential market among other factors. In the past, the sweet potato was intrinsically tied to the sugarcane as it was used as a fallow/ rotation/ supplementary crop. At present, many farmers are turning away from sugarcane and there has been somewhat of a renewed focus on root and tuber crops as stand-alone crops. Our farmers are now becoming serious business men, no longer seeing sweet potato as just a supplementary crop but as an economically viable crop. For this reason, I believe that local farmers are more interested in yield as opposed to nutrient content of the various cultivars available. A farmer would be more inclined to plant a variety with higher yields (but with high consumer acceptability in terms of taste and texture), rather than one that is more nutritionally sound (there have been incidences of persons rejecting the OFSP because of its softer texture and susceptibility to sweet potato weevil). In addition, in Barbados, the message is more one of “grow your food” and “food security” as opposed to “nutrition security” because as net importers of food, much of our foreign exchange is lost through the importation of food (population of 270,000, food import just under 300 million USD in 2014).
    I should note though, that there has been some focus on value-chain development of the sweet potato in Barbados, especially by government entities. Products such as flours, meals, porridges, pancake mixes and even ice-creams are now available, even though in limited quantities and at higher prices. With time and continued dedication, these products may be an important step toward the recognition of sweet potato as a nutritionally sound but tasty carbohydrate source in Barbados.

  6. In my view, being a food security, OFSP can act both as a provider of much nutrition as well as alleviating hunger. production of OFSP has had its fair share of challenges and farmers have for instance just come back to it in Kenya due to its economic value. And in this case, the selling point has been based on its high levels of vitamin A. Issues surrounding production and productivity are numerous if one has to consider them-including agronomic practices as well as effect of changes in climate and hence total picture must be considered before conclusions are drawn.

  7. Thank you all for this stimulating discussion, that raises issues of how to prioritize our breeding programs. Is it possible to separate OFSP from WFSP in the Uganda data? Could the consumption per capita of the WFSP not have changed, or has it halved as well (if this is the case, then it is not a preference problem). We have the production by farmers, where yields and net profits come into play. But if consumption (by non-farmers, ie urban population) per capita is going down-is it a market price issue (competing with other staples), or are consumers shifting away from SP for other reasons in Uganda? So, for breeding, do we need to look beyond yield into consumer acceptance as a major driver, or, if this is mainly a farmer production issue-then we stay with the production traits. Are there other major emerging constraints affecting production, and making farmers shift to other crops? And as Roland mentions, that Coca Cola thing is indeed an issue.

  8. Yes, more responses and even from Barbados (where I, in my ignorance, assumed you just ate orange-fleshed sweetpotato as in the States). I think my main job is just to ensure clarity whilst the rest of you get on with the discussion. With this in mind, I would just like to answer Michael’s query about whether it is possible to separate OFSP from WFSP in the Uganda data. I think the answer is yes because the main component of the sweetpotato crop in Uganda remains WFSP. Therefore I think it is the WFSP production and productivity that is remaining static. However, I don’t think that this ‘let’s OFSP off the hook’. The point is that the WFSP yields have remained static because the focus has been on increasing OF rather than yield and WFSP (and OFSP) is therefore becoming less and less competitive as the yield of other crops such as maize and rice increase.
    BUT INDEED, are there also other issues at play than just yield and have we been focusing on the wrong thing? It would be good to hear more about these but I don’t think we should escape too much from the focus on OFSP and yield because these are pretty central traits for sweetpotato.

  9. I just read ‘Improving Relief & Development Responses to Climate Variability: Emerging Lessons from the 2015 – 2016 El Nino in Southern Africa’ (October 2016) that looks at Malawi and Mozambique. There is a comment from a USAID staff wondering if there is overinvestment in OFSP in light of the fact that yields and production are stagnant. Roland suggests that in Mozambique, the yields of the improved OFSP varieties are no higher than farmers’ WFSP varieties. In Malawi, sweetpotato production has remained stable the past two years as maize production has declined disastrously. This is good news. However, this is due entirely to farmers’ WFSP varieties and not to improved OFSP varieties promoted by CIP and not to improved WFSP varieteis that are not being promoted at all. It raises the question on the position of sweetpotato in the context of Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, where there is the need to significantly increase yields and sweetpotato production. I suggest there is an opportunity to articulate a strategy that includes investment in new and promising WFSP varieties for higher yields, increased stability and greater disease tolerance allowing farmers to manage and maintain own planting material., concurrent with continuing investment in OFSP.

  10. Thank you, Richard. This is an interesting and valuable observation. On behalf of my NGO (Concern Afro-Sustainable Development Organization/CASD) like to check and expand for farmers in Ethiopia! can we?

  11. Ssemakula Gorrettie

    Dear All,
    My view is that we should look at sweetpotato as both and in addition as a cash crop. The crop has evolved over time, originally it was a food security crop/staple and it still strong in this area. With time, its role as a nutrition crop (OFSP) has become strong but still the non-OFSP dominate production and the market. When you go to markets (SP role as cash crop), at least in Uganda sweetpotato is very dominant and this is throughout Uganda. The reason why OFSP seems to be more emphasized in Uganda is because there has been a lot of donor funding going in there compared to the non-orange. As to the accuracy of the FAO data, I have reservations.

  12. Thanks Richard Gibson for initiating this discussion. I tend to go for both, not only as a either food security /mainstream staple or nutritious crop. With the increasing population middle class and level of education, people are becoming conscious about what they eat. About 10 years ago, there was no advertisement on weight management in Ghana, but a couple of years ago, you will not missed these ADs. I will suggest we developed “better” nutritional messages to promote as a nutrition and food security food crop.
    Also, value addition is a key to sustain production. I would be bias to say, that we have to wholly accept the bakery and drink products from OFSP. For example in Ghana, it will be difficult for OFSP to replace our yam and cassava dishes, but incorporating it into existing recipes will make available healthier foods.

  13. In the past in Uganda the issue of sweet potato as a nutrition crop was no where until a few years. Most people did not have it as a staple food either. However today with the increasing population and climate change, sweet potato is becoming an important crop in a dressing food insecurity in developing countries, it has also become regular in most households’ diet. Sweet potato can therefore be considered as a food security and mainstream staple crop for two reasons: It is fast maturing thereby saving people in waste cases of famine and the current threat to cassava production by cassava brown streak disease makes sweet potato a better option.

  14. Hallo everyone,
    Good to see the interesting discussion. I think we need to remember that CIP is working closely with the national sweetpotato programmes, who are evaluating and releasing all types of sweetpotato (white, yellow, cream, purple…. orange). Among which Malawi has 2 WFSP in the release pipeline. The NARIs in 11 countries are implementing business plans for sustainable sweetpotato pre-basic seed production – and are not restricting themselves to one type and are multiplying and selling according to customer demand. Seed system interventions need to give farmers options and choices. So e.g. in Uganda – Dibuka is going out (25 t/ha) – and I think Gorrettie has a “new Dimbuka” for release? The current donor investment portfolio is building skills and capacities in breeding (genomic tools, Accelerated Breeding Schemes) which can be used for any type of sweetpotato. So how do we leverage the current investments to grow the overall investment in sweetpotato – especially by national governments and private sector?

  15. Yadanno Eyasu Tarafa – where are you in Ethiopia? Are you in contact with our colleagues at HARC/SARI in SNNPR – Dr Fekadu; and TARI Tigray- Dr Beyene. SARI has white and orange fleshed varieties and evaluating new clones for release. TARI has OFSP varieties.

  16. Ø Is OF being more highly rated than root yield? The straight forward answer is no. Sweetpotato breeders try to give the farmer and the consumer OFSP varieties as good as what the farmer/consumer has or better. The breeder has to take care of many traits of interest (not only orange flesh (OF), e.g. disease resistance (e.g. viruses, Alternaria blight), adaptation to soil type (e.g. pH/acidity, alkalinity, salinity, fertility), drought tolerance, taste, dry matter, other quality traits (e.g. sugars, minerals). Combining all the different traits in one variety is not straight forward, and requires the participation of different experts to produce the right OF variety. The breeder is interested in producing OFSP varieties high in beta-carotene, high dry matter, with high yield for food and good for commercial production. However, the urgency is to help households reduce vitamin A deficiency (stop blindness and death). The process is to improve the varieties stepwise while solving the urgent problem. In any breeding program yield is always among the priority traits to improve. Increasing productivity will not come from conventional breeding alone; investment must go into other ways (e.g. physiology/drought tolerance, molecular approaches, value addition). Other major food crops have had a long history of substantial sustained investments unlike sweetpotato.
    Ø Is this because sweetpotato is now perceived by both consumers and researchers as a nutritious vegetable rather than as a staple food? In many sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, there are communities where sweetpotato is a primary or secondary or among the major staples. Some SSA countries use sweetpotato tops as a vegetable. The number of countries where intake of sweetpotato as food is increasing as the frequency of droughts and diseases on several staples increases. Most breeders in SSA do not consider sweetpotato as a nutritious vegetable; they work on it as a food crop.
    Ø If so, is this good? Is this bad? Is a decline in sweetpotato consumption inevitably and is being classed as a vegetable a comfortable slot for it? Sweetpotato production is on the increase in Africa (meaning consumption is increasing); the production increase is from increase in area. We need to have increase in productivity as well, i.e. use all possible means to increase productivity, not only conventional breeding. Conventional breeding is not a magic bullet (use e.g. agronomic management/fertilizer application, irrigation). Data suggests that the increase in storage root yield production is for human consumption as food, not as a vegetable. Consuming sweetpotato tops a s a vegetable is also very good. Storage root consumption as food is what is captured in the statistics, not the use of sweetpotato tops as a vegetable. Sweetpotato is very useful in those countries where the storage roots are used as food and the tops as a vegetable because the tops are very nutritious – high in minerals, vitamins, and protein. Increased consumption of OFSP and sweetpotato tops is a very good thing as it would be an indicator of improved nutrition, and it is worth more investment. In many countries in SSA sweetpotato is food, not a vegetable, why would you want to classify it as a vegetable?

    Ø Sweetpotato is being touted as ‘climate smart’ (Graham Thiele, at African Potato Association (APA) meeting this year in Addis) – but as a vegetable is it becoming ‘climate irrelevant’?
    In poor communities with no source of irrigation, if you get hold of a drought tolerant sweetpotato variety, you will treasure it as a source of food and vegetable.


    The surface area of sweet potato crops is 14 percent of the total area of tubers. It varies from province to province. Nevertheless, the inter-season variation is not important.
    Sweet potato is a flexible crop with agro-ecological requirements, tolerant to diseases that other crops. It is practiced pure in all provinces during the three seasons. The yield per hectare is greater than 7 tones for each agricultural season (the data collected in the National Agricultural Survey in Burundi, the 2014-2015 season)

  18. My contribution to the question asked, is from a consumer point of view
    Ø Is this because sweetpotato is now perceived by both consumers and researchers as a nutritious vegetable rather than as a staple food? – In Kenya the primary consumption of OFSP is not due to its nutritional value but rather as a staple food. Very limited information is know about the nutritional value of the OFSP especially among the rural poor. Being a trader of Sweetpotato in the local markets I hardly hear any complains if one gets white or orange fleshed SP.
    Ø Sweetpotato is being touted as ‘climate smart’ (Graham Thiele, at African Potato Association (APA) meeting this year in Addis) – but as a vegetable is it becoming ‘climate irrelevant’? – This is indeed true due to its ability to withstand harsh conditions and its ability to do well even in poor soils.

  19. Dear Members of the discussion group.
    Great. The discussion has at last received some contrasting responses. Yes, we have now seen several contributions saying that all is well; OFSP is providing food security (yield) as well as micronutrients (Vitamin A) and is relevant to climate change resilience but we are also still reading that it is WFSP that is playing the bigger role in both and that it is landraces that may be doing the heavy lifting. Margaret has added to this discussion with a comment about the WFSP New Dimbuka being released in Uganda – and I can confirm that it really does have huge yields as well as other farmer-preferred traits – but tis is rather a contribution which looks both ways because, although this variety probably originated from Namulonge, it was ‘saved’ by farmers who selected it, as far as I understand. Robert has confirmed that yield (not OFSP) has to be the No 1 target – but why is there so little apparent evidence of substantial yield gains in researcher-bred varieties? Maybe the answer is in my use of the word ‘apparent’; maybe we need better data(!) but some contributors are not disagreeing with the data.
    Actually, I really do think that sweetpotato is a fantastic crop against climate change and I really want its full potential to be realized. In East Africa, I see it as one of the few crops that can usually bridge the short dry season between the short and long rains (maize is usually hopeless) so as to produce huge yields over the combined seasons.
    I am just a bit worried that we’re failing to get the strategy right. As Gorrettie points out, our strategy is often being driven by donor money but do the donors always get it right? Tom seems right in his request for a better strategy. I see this discussion group as a great way to try to improve strategy and the way to achieve this must be to look at things with our eyes wide open. Tom also points out that ‘In Malawi, sweetpotato production has remained stable the past two years as maize production has declined disastrously’. To me, that is all very well but we should be asking ourselves why sweetpotato production has only remained stable; if maize production is declining, surely sweetpotato production should have sky-rocketed!

  20. Hello everyone.
    Thank you for this interesting discussion. I work on a project implemented by a local NGO BRAC whose aim is to the improve adoption of OFSP. As highlighted one of the challenges of OFSP is it’s dry matter content as compared to the white fleshed variety. However OFSP as well as WFSP are also facing competition from other staples especially matooke(cooking bananas) and maize whose production has increased tremendously. Particularly important is maize whose production and productivity has skyrocketed due to its versatility (can be consumed as porridge, posho/maize meal, as well as fresh maize on cob), is easy to store post-harvest as grains which is far easier to handle than fresh roots or dried SP. Furthermore the trend of consumption of maize meal as the food of choice in institutions such as schools, the army , prisons etc has favored the increased production of maize. lastly sweet potato as a staple is usually given low attention in terms of agronomy, there is little or no fertilizer application and pesticide application yet the SP has taken a good beating in terms of pests and diseases due to the prevalent climate change in the country.

  21. Tumusiime Rhoda Peace

    Richard and all who have made valuable comments on the FAO publication are commended. This means we are not yet there. Inspite of the various efforts to promote OFSP including that of Harvest Plus, many Ugandans still have limited access to clean planting vines. Knowing that I sit on Nutrition Panel and Boards, Ugandans approach me on this issue. I feel that perhaps we have not engaged the Policies well to enhance popularisation and to attract the private sector to facilitate servises in this área. Potatoes of all types are as relevant today as they were and more effort is needed. I thank FAO for this eye opening information. I wish FAO can engage government on the same.

  22. Hello,
    These findings are really interesting and calls for a serious reflection/analysis (lessons) on the on-going effort on promotion of OFSP as a nutritional crop. Over the past two or three years, there has been mass distribution of sweetpotato planting material, with some bias towards OFSP, as a mitigation measure against adverse climate-floods and droughts. Some of the key issues that I have learnt are that 1, Farmers’ priority is on food security but still some are getting the message on nutritional benefits 2, There is still low investment on vine multiplication and root production, hence much of the production come from predominantly small-holder farmers 3, Poor agronomic practices such as late planting, pests and disease control etc. Even though there has been massive campaign for OFSP, farmers still have positive perception towards WFSP, and this is coupled with readily availability “planting materials”

  23. Dear All,
    I would like to share some of my experiences from working on sweetpotato value chains in Southern Ethiopia. Remarkably Ethiopia according to the FAOSTAT has become the 4th largest producer of sweetpotato globally and had the highest yields per hectare globally ( 45t/ha). Yes, its seems surprising and even the Ethiopian researchers I talk to do not believe it. I would question the data provided by FAOSTAT in this regard. During my field studies, I find out that the even experimental yields of the cultivar which is most commonly grown in southern Ethiopia is about 36 t/ha and at the farm, the practical farm yields were about 20 t/ha. So, the message is that do not take FAOSTAT data at face value and be conscious while using it. Secondly sweetpotato suffers from various misconceptions and myths among the local communities, during my surveys, there were people (mainly men) who consider that this crop should not be eaten by men as it can reduce their vigour and may only be suitable for women and children. Sweetpotato perception as poor man food in Africa is another problem, the income elasticity of sweetpotato is negative. Economically wealthy people sometimes feel even shame in buying sweetpotato is market as a social stigma.
    The second point which I would like to highlight is the adoption of OFSP. At least from the southern Ethiopia (particularly Wolayita Zone) I can talk firmly that government and various development organisations have been trying to promote it but the success rates are rather limited. The white flesh cultivar suited more to the taste preferences of the people. Also, farmers reported that shelf life of OFSP was lower when compared to white flesh, the susceptibility to pest and diseases were also high in case of OFSP, and lastly the yields were significantly lower. Other than that I believe also the dissemination of OFSP planting material was a problem. Most of the planting material was bought or borrowed from family and friends inter- or intra-village level.
    Sweetpotato weevil attack is an another issue which farmers and other stakeholders were very much concern off, the attack of the weevil was significant during the long dry season ( Oct – March) which is apparently the main harvest season in Ethiopia. Farmers were not aware of any modern pest-management practices rather than filling the cracks of ground due to swelling of roots or dry conditions.
    Poor harvesting practices leading to mechanical damages and lack of post-harvest infrastructure leads to significant post-harvest losses. In my finding, I found out that the maximum losses were taking places at the retail level as already damaged and bruised product sits under sun or semi-shade conditions for a week or more before it can be sold to final consumers. I can understand that similar things can be said about many other crops in the tropical areas, however, despite its various agronomical advantages particular attention has to given to sweetpotato if it needs to be considered as a food security crop.
    Processing of sweetpotato into value added products is hardly undertaken except in Asian producers such as China, Thailand and Indonesia. Bulky and perishable nature of the crop is the biggest hindrance in its broad spread acceptability as food security crop. For example in India people occasionally eat sweetpotato as a delicacy but it’s far from being a food security crop. A lot of university level research on utilising sweetpotato flour in bread, cookies and other bakery condiments is ongoing, but the impact on the ground in the countries like Ethiopia is non-existent.
    Ethiopia has the second largest population (~100 million) in Africa after Nigeria, a large part of the land of the country is inhabitable due to a desert and arid conditions. In firtle lands such as southern Ethiopia, Wolayita zone population densities could be as high as 500-700 people/ Every few year country suffer severe food shortages due to the failure of rains and degrading soils. In such a scenario sweet potato may be a potential crop for food security for this the beautiful country. A lot of efforts on the part of policy makers, researchers and funding organisations is required to use sweetpotato towards uplifting the poor and marginalised out of food insecurity.
    Thanking you,

  24. This is obviously a very interesting discussion. In a short view of situation of OFSP in Burkina Faso, I will say sweetpotato in general is a cash crop that is growing in area and production since 20 years. In the main production areas the crop has replaced the cotton that was the main cash crop in the country. The market that is driving the production is local and regional, sweetpotato from Burkina Faso has being sold in the other sahelian countries mainly in Mali and in Niger. However, consuming sweetpotato in the big cities was only done by poor people. Since OFSP has been promoted and advertized as a nutritious food based crop the perception has change and now OFSP is being purchased in the big cities. Nevertheless, OFSP production is still low and the proportion of OFSP within the sweetpotato production is inferior to 10%. Yied still very important and OFSP varieties in Burkina Faso have yield that is lower than the best white varieties. Working along the value chain can change the situation especially when the production is driven by market. We realized this year that OFSP production has increased as some root growing were able to be linked to markets (traders, consumers) in the main cities. The need now is to, suggest OFSp as food security crop along with its nutritional benefits.

  25. I think sweetpotato is both a staple crop and a nutritional crop. In sub-sahara Africa where there is a high level of prevalence of malnutrition, it is important to rise-up the issue of sweetpotato as a nutritional crop

  26. Dear ALL,
    Thanks for the very interesting discussions. I would like to support Parmar that the observations in Ethiopia would very well reflect the scenario in some parts of Kenya. Traditionally in the Gusii community for example, SP have been regarded as suitable for children. Because farmers have had small holdings, the priority has always been given to maize at the expense of SP. However with the coming of the Maize Lethal Necrotic disease which wiped out the maize, SP production/consumption has gained prominence. So indeed, there are many factors at around SP in SSA and all these need to be addressed before drawing conclusions. The factors would include availability of good seed (both in quality and highly yielding) as well as markets which will in turn propel the SP from a subsistence crop into commercial status.

  27. It does seem to be an emerging consensus on the need for a strategic reflection on the current status of investment in sweetpotato and the future direction – looking at (1) yields and food security, (2) stability and resilience to natural disasters as well as (3) improved nutritional content and status. Margaret suggests that CIP has a focus on OFSP but that the NARS have a broader mandate to look at all sweetpotato. Respective roles and relative investments could be part of a strategic analysis.
    Kennedy relates that in Malawi following floods and drought in 2015 and El Nino drought in 2016, there has been a massive campaign to promote OFSP and this is working. However, farmers remain positive on WFSP perhaps due to the availability of planting material. Malawi has two improved WFSP varieties that we released in 2011 that have not been widely promoted with farmers. Margaret writes that DARS has two new WFSP varieties ready for release. How can these four improved WFSP varieties be supported concurrent with continuing support to OFSP in Malawi? For the past 3 years, SUSTAIN Malawi has run six line OFSP farmer managed trials. Based on yield data across locations and seasons, we are dropping two of the six varieties due to lower yields and yield stability – and adding an improved WFSP variety and also adding a variety selected by the host farmer. Our hope is that this will increase our understanding of the role of both new OFSP varieties, new WFSP varieties and the farmers current preferred varieties in their system and help farmers made their own decisions on whether to add or substitute a variety.

  28. I agree with all the fellow participants regarding significant inefficiencies in the production and post-production systems of the sweetpotato in SSA. The answer to the primary question if sweet potato shall be considered as a food staple or a nutrition crop (in the category of fruits and vegetables), is food staple crop. The primary nutrient which sweetpotato provides is the carbohydrates and is always eaten with some soups and sauces in the traditional cuisine. Some of the well-known problems in sweet potato post-production systems in SSA are mechanical injuries, lack of curing, lack of storage, lack of proper retail conditions, etc. I have compiled a list of recommendations which can enhance the post-production value chains of the crop and bring a change in its status as a food staple. The recommendations are especially relevant for SSA and are as follows:
    1. Establishing curing and storage facilities at the farm and wholesale levels of the value chain to enhance the shelf life of fresh roots. Storage facilities will enable farmers and collectors to harvest on time which will to a major extent reduce the incident of pest damage, especially in the dry season. Curing and storage facilities would also balance the demand and supply gaps in high and low seasons and control price fluctuations.
    2. Improvements are required in harvesting, handling and packaging practices, which can significantly reduce the magnitude of mechanical damages in the form of cuts, breakages and skinning injuries. Successful implementation of storage and curing facilities cannot be ensured unless a major reduction in mechanical injuries during harvesting and handling is achieved.
    3. Improving the retailing conditions of fresh sweet potato roots can enhance the returns of the retailers. The majority of the sweet potato retailers in the study location are poor women who are selling products by displaying them on ground in direct sunlight or semi-shade conditions resulting in loss of marketability.
    4. Diversification of commercial cultivars in the study area by introducing new high yielding sweet potato varieties is recommended. Particular attention must be paid towards familiarising and motivating all the stakeholders to orange flesh cultivars (OFSP), due to their specific importance towards alleviating vitamin a deficiency especially among women and children (VAD).
    5. Post-harvest processing of sweet potato roots in sun/solar dried products (flours and chips), can have multiple benefits regarding income generation, lengthening of availability period and diversification of usages of sweet potato. Transformative changes can be obtained in the post-harvest value chain by development and marketing of processed products.

  29. It is now my job to draw this discussion to a close and to make my attempt at bringing together the main conclusions. Nonetheless I think my first job must be to thank everyone for having taken part in such an open way in what I think will prove to have been a very crucial discussion.
    The main issue we were to debate was whether the pursuit of the orange flesh trait has been at the expense of other farmer-preferred ones, especially yield. Several participants from a wide range of countries confirmed that modern OFSP were indeed no better yielding than even good local landraces; perhaps more significantly, no-one denied this. Similarly, although there were doubts expressed about FAO statistics, the concept that SP production and productivity are fairly stagnant in much of Africa and that cereal, especially maize, production and productivity are roaring ahead seemed broadly correct. A Kenyan trader indicated that flesh colour is relatively unimportant for consumers but others did indicate that urban populations were beginning to prefer orange – and pleas for more promotion of orange were made. Contrariwise, others were for some promotion and distribution of WFSP varieties.
    These outcomes are indeed ‘a wake-up call’ for us all and I think this discussion signifies it is time for a more balanced approach to OF, realizing that OFSP need not by itself ‘save the world’ and that other commodities like pumpkin, eggs, milk and a range of fruits also combat vitamin A deficiency. Indeed both sweetpotato breeders confirm that yield must be a priority and I do not think it is wrong if I say I have heard at least one of them emphasizing that farmers should grow both OFSP and WFSP, itself a very nutritious crop.
    Gorrettie implied what I think is a very important point: that OF has been a very valuable ‘hook’ for catching donor support. I am sure this is true and I can very easily imagine almost all donors wanting to include OF in the one or two projects each may fund on SP. This logically leads to WFSP getting no or almost no support, what is I believe a horrible distortion of what most of us really want. And money is pretty important for almost everything we do. My personal conclusion of what we need to do to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future is, with the next donor ‘hook’ – for example the resilience of SP to climate change and variability – we should make sure we push SP (not OFSP) so, if we get the money, we can have the choice of promoting both WF and OFSP.

  30. Very good discussion. i am joining the network

  31. We supported farmer groups in Bomet county(Kenya) with orange fleshed sweet potato vines that were sourced from KALRO.Initially it was a food security initiative meant to improve household food and nutrition security and overall standard of living.Small holder farmers have been encouraged to grow OFSP on large scale as this will improve household income because of high demand for the OFSP in the area.World Vision Kenya in collaboration with the County Government through Bandaptai Economic Empowerment Project has supported one of the pioneer groups with Sweet potato value addition equipment.This is a pilot project targeting 200 Households and 200 youth in the area.