Septembers in Niassa are dry. Warm winds blowing over the Northern Mozambican province send billowing clouds of dust across the land. It is hard to imagine that anything could grow here. Yet the parched earth looks like it is just waiting for the first drops of rainwater to prove its worth to any sceptic. The local sweetpotato farmers know this. That is why they are hard at work, preparing their sweetpotato planting material.
In Choulue locality, Chimbunila district, Fernando Alabe, has finished constructing his net tunnel and is anxiously waiting for vines. He has been growing the orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties from 2014, and has been selected as one of the few Decentralized Vine Multipliers (DVMs) – model sweetpotato farmers who conserve and multiply vines during the dry season, and then distribute to other farmers.
Soon, Mario Jaisse, an agronomist for the International Potato Center (CIP) in Niassa, arrives with vines of the orange-fleshed Delvia variety. Together, Jaisse and Alabe plant the vines in the net tunnel, and carefully close it. For the next two and a half months, Alibi will only open the net tunnel twice: first to pull out weeds, and when they are ready, to cut the vines and transfer them into an open field for the next stage of multiplication. Until then, he’ll water the plants carefully from the outside, and regularly check to ensure that the netting has no holes. The purpose of the net tunnel is to protect sweetpotato planting material from getting into contact with pests, which could transmit diseases.
“With the net tunnel, we’re able to improve the quality of vines, which then helps us to increase our yield,” Alabe says. “In December, I will plant the vines in a small field that has good conditions, and does not have pests and diseases. Between January and February, I will cut the vines and plant them in a larger field to produce roots,” he adds.
A few kilometers from Lichinga town, the Hortifruticola de Massengere (HOFRUMA) cooperative is one step ahead of Alabe. They are ready to transfer vines from their net tunnel to the open field. Although this is not the first time they have done this, Jaisse is at hand to provide some technical support to ensure that everything goes according to plan.
The chairperson of HOFRUMA, Paulino Juma Paulo, recalls how it all began. “I asked how we could partner with CIP. I provided my name and after this, we started a friendly working partnership. We put together a demonstration site, and when the harvests were good, CIP financed the construction of the net tunnel and water pump,” he narrates.
Alabe and HOFRUMA will not be producing vines for their farms only. They are part of a wider network that supplies farmers in Niassa Province clean, disease-free planting material.
An intricate network moves sweetpotato planting material from the research station to the farm
Orange-fleshed sweetpotato is recognized by the Government of Mozambique as one of the most important crops for mitigating food insecurity and malnutrition among its 28 million people. In Niassa Province, the government is actively promoting OFSP as part of its action plan to reduce chronic malnutrition among children below the age of five from 44% to 30% by 2019. To achieve this target, households must have good quality planting material at the onset of the rains.
In November 2012, Irish Aid funded the Nutritious Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato for Niassa, project, which is led by CIP. Through this 4-year initiative, governmental and non-governmental partners quickly recognized the pivotal role that DVMs could play in multiplying and distributing vines to households, and in disseminating information about good farming practices, sweetpotato storage and utilization techniques. The Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Mozambique (IIAM), has been working in collaboration with CIP to conserve, multiply and disseminate three OFSP varieties – Gloria, Delvia and Irene to the DVMs.
The vine dissemination is structured around two levels. The first level, to which Fernando Alabe and HOFRUMA belong, is made up of 25 primary multipliers, who are considered among the best OFSP producers in their locality, and have shown commitment to maintain high agronomic practices over time. These DVMs receive water pumps, support to construct net tunnels measuring 3m by 1.8m, and clean planting material from IIAM, which they plant in the net tunnels. After about two to three months, they can harvest vines for the first time for further multiplication in the open field. Benjamin Rakotoarisoa, the project manager of the Nutritious Sweetpotato for Niassa, explains that DVMs harvest 40kg for the first, 30kg for the second and 25kg in the third harvest of vines from net tunnels.
The second level is made up of 46 secondary multipliers, who receive planting material from the primary multipliers’ net tunnels for further multiplication in the open field. Vine multipliers work closely with the CIP agronomist to maintain their net tunnels, and to optimize vine production through good practices, e.g. the use of farmyard manure or compost. Local agricultural authorities and NGOs collaborate with the DVMs to distribute the planting material to households.
“We have 20 hectares of land under open field multiplication. Seventy-three tons of vines from were harvested from these fields and distributed to 31,548 households this year,” says Rakotoarisoa.
“We feel proud because most of the districts in Niassa are planting OFSP”
Arnaldo Maximiliano Maloa Maloa is the focal point for food security and Nutrition, and, the head of agricultural extension services in Niassa Province. According to him, the greatest success has been the increase in OFSP production. Maloa says that within one year, a kilogram of good quality vines could generate planting material to plant up to ten hectares. “You can get income from the vines, consume the leaves and in four months, you can consume or sell the roots,” he says.
It is this versatility that is attracting farmers like Alabe to the crop. In 2016, he planted six hectares from which he harvested 875 bags. He sold each bag for 250 Meticais. This is in addition to the income he received from the sale of vines. With the income he generated, he has already been able to construct two houses.
The net tunnel technology, which was originally targeted to eight districts of Niassa, is enabling farmers in neighboring provinces to plant the beta-carotene rich OFSP. “We feel proud because most of the districts are planting OFSP. In the months of May and June, the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula province are planning to buy vines from us. Other provinces like Zambezia are also interested,” Maloa says.
The expanding market will no doubt be an incentive for the DVMs in Niassa to continue their operations, and to keep the pipeline that allows clean, disease-free planting material from the research station to the farmers.