The 11th consultation of the SPHI Seed Systems and Crop Management community of Practice meeting was held over three days in May 2019 in Mekelle, Northern Ethiopia. During the three days, participants engaged in vibrant discussions during poster sessions, panel discussions, presentations and group work. A more detailed overview of the meeting can be found here.
The first session of the meeting focussed on “Delivering quality seed to male and female farmers – progress and lessons from sweetpotato seed production & delivery approaches in SSA?”. During this session, participants had the privilege of hearing and learning from the experiences of four commercial vine multipliers from Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda who were very clear that sweetpotato seed is their top most profitable venture. Despite challenges in getting a steady market for the vines, the multipliers are committed to continuously learning and improving efficiency in production through gauging market demand correctly each season and aggressive marketing to farmers of the need for quality seed for better yield to ensure that majority of the seed they produce is sold.
‘Sweetpotato vine multiplication business is my treasury!’ Julius Dorese from The Volta Region of Ghana declared as he started sharing highlights of his business with participants. Julius Dorsese is a vine and root producer from the Volta Region of Ghana who started producing sweetpotato in 2013 through a CIP led project in his community. In the second year, 2014, he produced his first batch of vines for sale to potential farmers who were willing to produce OFSP roots. He generated a whooping sum of Ghc 4000.00 (US$769) from the sale of vines and this was his motivation as he had never sold any farm produce to rise such amount in a single season previously. Since that time, Dorsese has exceled and become a very popular decentralized vine multiplier in the whole of Ghana as well as in the neighbouring Togo and Benin. Sweetpotato is advantageous because he can grow it three times in a year depending fully on rainfed agriculture.
One of the secrets of his success has been in keeping good records of his clients and contacting them before the start of the rains to gather information on their seed requirements beforehand. This way he produces knowing where to sell his vines and roots beforehand. Last year alone, Dorsese sold over three million vines cuttings equivalent to Ghc 150,000.00 (US$ 28,846.00).
The second panellist was Mr Haftemariam Reda, from region of Tigrai. He is the owner and manager of Gash Reda Lema mechanized commercial farm. In his 40 Ha farm, he grows quite a number of commercial cash crops, namely: onion, tomato, pepper, watermelon, sweetpotato, maize, teff and sorghum. He is a renowned seed multiplier in the region and has experience multiplying onion, maize and teff seed. Five years ago, he was introduced to sweetpotato vine multiplication through observing other multipliers in the region, he got curious and decided to venture into this new crop and use his previous experiences in multiplication to turn a profit in this venture. He has done so successfully and is now recognised as a leading seed producer in the region and a ready customer for basic seed produced at the Tigrai Agricultural Research Institute in Mekelle. Through this partnership, Haftermariam benefits from advice and learning from the institute especially on good agricultural practices.
Jara Tadele, from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), was the third panellist. He is the owner of Jara -Agro Industry located in Abaya district. Jara Agro industry grows different crops for food, forage and seed in his 500+ hectare farm land which is fully irrigated. Jara started engaging in the sweetpotato vine multiplication business five years ago when he was struggling to make sufficient income to return a profit to the main agricultural activities. . A friend advised him that there was an opportunity to make money by partnering with CIP. Initially, he was not very convinced that sweetpotato seed multiplication was a viable venture, but now with an estimated 20 ha of annual vine multiplication, he has emerged as one of the biggest commercial vine multiplier in Ethiopia and probably in Africa. Jara Tadele’s is very emphatic that sweetpotato seed is his largest earner, the margins are very good at 4-5 times that of other crops. The only caveat is that to enjoy such margins, the market must be very good. With his approach of big- big production, big buyers and big sales, his main buyers are institutional buyers as he is not affordable to small scale farmers without the intervention of NGOs.
‘My customers know that they can rely on me’ Tadele said. ‘I have vines throughout the year, I have invested in building a solid reputation and now it is bearing fruit. Infact, the Southern Agricultural Research Institute sometimes cannot give me enough seed to multiply’ he concluded
Joseph Okalebo is a coordinator of the Soroti Sweetpotato Producers and Processors Association (SOSPPA), formed in 2004 by graduates Sweetpotato Farmer Field School of implemented by CIP in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Natural research Institute (NRI). SOSPA is a farmer-based organization that produces quality planting material and also processes sweetpotato roots to produce composite flour for porridge. The association has built their brand such that quality sweetpotato seed is synonymous with SOSPPA in Eastern Uganda!
SOSPPA is the main supplier of planting material to FAO and affiliated CBOs, individual farmers and other NGOs such as HarvestPlus. The association has moved a step further and become a partner of choice for NGOs seeking to improve the sweetpotato value chain in the country. Through such partnerships, SOSPPA has been able to get infrastructure such as a solar drier, irrigation pumps and screen nets for individual farmers to keep the value chain rolling.
Is the seed business profitable for the youth?
When asked what their advice to the youth looking to venture into this business is the four panellists were emphatic in their response ‘Just get started, it is a good business. Start small and expand gradually’
Tadele further elaborated that with a small piece of land, it was possible to make a reasonable income both from seed multiplication and root production. ‘Both roots and vines have different uses, look for market and you will make money, and the vines can also be used to for different uses such as feeding livestock’ he said. Reda agreed with Tadele and added that he would advise the youth to minimize risk by diversifying through having an alternative crop to fall back on in the event of instabilities in the market.
Dorsese added that the business is profitable because by multiplying 5,000 vines, it was possible to generate enough planting material for 20 acres. His advice was that one had to be very careful to keep the farm free of weeds and prevent weevil infestation in order to get a good harvest.
Okalebo pointed out that sweetpotato is not a labour-intensive crop compared to other crops. Youth engaging in vine multiplication can have a job elsewhere and still be successful vine multipliers. He also highlighted that it was not a capital-intensive crop with the advantage of early maturity making it possible to get a return quickly.
‘Sweetpotato is no longer a poor man’s or an old people’s crop, give it a try!’ He concluded.