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Sweetpotato production in Sub-Saharan Africa: Patterns and key issues

Sub-Saharan Africa produces more than 7 million tonnes of sweetpotato annually, about 5% of global production. Since the early 1960s, production in East and Central Africa has increased one and-a-half times (to 250% of 1960 production). Recent projections by IFPRI indicate that sweetpotato production in Africa will more than double by 2020, whereas production in other regions of the world is expected to remain stable or decrease.

Sweetpotato is a co-staple in East Africa’s densely populated, intensively cultivated mid-elevation farming areas. In many other countries it is an important secondary crop grown for an expanding fresh market. Africa’s top producers are Uganda (1.7 million tons), Rwanda (980,000 t), Malawi (960,000 t) and Kenya (725,000 t). The largest producers on a per capita basis are Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda (90–100+ kg per capita per year).

Most of the sweetpotato varieties grown in Africa are diverse landraces, selected by farmers for adaptation and taste. White, cream or yellow-fleshed varieties are the norm, and orange-fleshed varieties are still relatively rare. Local standards call for a dry-matter content ranging from 28 to 35%. Maturity is variable (3–8 months) and there is a strong preference for varieties that produce vigorous vines that can survive the dry season, to have planting material available when the rains begin.

The first component of CIP’s crop improvement strategy for sweetpotato is founded on the collection, characterization and conservation of farmers’ varieties, followed by regional distribution of those that perform best. The second component involves the introduction of the best cultivars from other parts of the world, adaptation and breeding by national programmes, and systematic screening with partners using participatory methods based on the study of genotype by environment interactions.


Ewell, Peter T. "Sweet potato production in Sub-Saharan Africa: Patterns and key issues." Lima: CIP (2002).