Women are central to agriculture and make a strong contribution to food security and nutrition at both the household and community levels. In many developing countries, they make up almost half of the agricultural labor force, but their production is limited by barriers to finance, inputs, and extension services, as well as land ownership and rights.
45-year-old Uwubumwe Jeanne is a smallholder farmer in Nkotsi sector, Musanze district, Rwanda. She is a mother to three children and from training and experience has learned the nutritional and economic value of vitamin A rich Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP).
The mother of three says not only does she prepare OFSP for her family as just a source of food but has found medicine in the sweetpotato against vitamin A deficiency as well as other diseases related to poor feeding practices.
In 2016, Uwubumwe suffered from poor vision but little did she know that this was due to lack of vitamin A in her body. One day, when she consulted the community health workers in her area, they advised her to visit the nearby health center where she was told she had signs of night blindness. She was given vitamin A supplements and recommended to take fruits, vegetables and other foods that would supplement her with more vitamin.
In the same year, Uwubumwe’s household was chosen among the 200,000 Households with children under five years and pregnant/lactating mother to benefit from the Feed the Future Rwanda Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) for Income and Nutrition Activity by USAID and implemented by the International Potato Center (CIP).
Her and other beneficiaries from Nkotsi sector were given a two-day training by International Potato Center which involved how to grow OFSP as well as sessions on the importance of eating OFSP to their health, children and entire family.
“Although many did not believe in what we had been told in the training, I went home convinced that I was going to grow the orange-fleshed sweetpotato due to its high productivity and the beta-carotene which our bodies transform to vitamin A,” she said.
“I knew that OFSP was going to be my medicine for my poor sight, as well as a preventative measure for my children and the entire family from such related diseases” she added.
Although Uwubumwe grew other crops like banana, beans, soya beans, and maize, she was hopeful that this new variety of sweetpotato was going to improve her livelihood due to its short maturity period and productivity.
Greatly motivated and excited of the OFSP, she started planting on a small plot of land that she had reserved. The first season, she recalls harvesting to about a total of 800 kilograms of OFSP roots. 700 kgs, she sold in the market at Rwf200 earning Rwf 140,000 and the remaining 100 kilos consumed by her family.
“The first season of the harvest was evidence of what we had been told about this new sweetpotato variety was true. I had never seen such yield from sweetpotato grown in my village and for the fact that its maturity period is as short as three months motivated me to be serious at growing this crop for increased productivity, income and improved nutrition of my family members,” she said.
Uwubumwe has consistently grown the orange-fleshed sweetpotato and although the land she cultivates on the sweetpotato is small, she says she can never stop growing them because OFSP has become her family’s medicine.
Following other seasons, yielding improved. She managed to save Rwf 300,000 which she used to purchase a cow that has been providing milk for her children and she also sells excess milk to her neighbors for extra income. The cow’s waste is also used as manure for her banana plantation.
Growing OFSP she says became more profitable than any other crops she used to grow. Returns came in quicker and she did not have to wait for long to earn or get food on the table.
Income from the sweetpotato roots has enabled Uwubumwe to meet family needs such as buying Mituele (local medical insurance) as well as facilitate her to look after the banana plantation among others.
“I am now planning to open a shop in the town center where I can make and sell OFSP pastry products like mandazi to increase my income,” she added.
The committed farmer has ensured that she has got clean planting material every season by keeping some vines planted in her banana plantation where she says there, they are always protected from weeds and kept healthy. She has also strategically made sure that most of the farmers in her area grow OFSP where one may still acquire planting material. This way, we are never out of vines or even roots for eating, she concluded.
Engaging women in the opportunities created by a growing economy with a focus on small farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future drives agricultural growth and improves nutrition for thousands of families in Rwanda.