Mabvuto Mndau is a 41-year old entrepreneur from Malawi with a passion for agricultural production. He is a multiplier of planting material of orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) varieties along the shores of Lake Malawi in Chikoleza Village, Golomoti EPA in Dedza District, as well as on his farm in Mchinji District.
Two years ago, Mabvuto like most commercial farmers in Malawi, had never heard about sweet potato vine multiplication as a viable business opportunity. But his interest was raised after reading an advert in the local newspaper that the International Potato Center (CIP) was sourcing expressions of interest from potential commercial multipliers. He is keen to exploit new ideas and opportunities. “We tried maize production but experienced that the business was not profitable enough,” said Mabvuto.
The fact that he no longer produces maize but a wide variety of other crops including cassava, potato, banana, mangoes, guava, sugar cane among others on his farms proves he likes exploring alternative business opportunities.
Mabvuto does not regret venturing into the multiplication of sweet potato planting material.
“Thanks to the training received by CIP under the Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project, I learned all the skills needed to start the vine multiplication business. I learnt that it would not be easy but decided to give it my very best effort to succeed as a multiplier,” said Mabvuto.
Initially Mabvuto planted 30 bundles of material, obtained from CIP, in six beds measuring a metre by 20 meters each before the 2015/16 growing season. With special care and hard work he managed to expand his area under multiplication and sold his planting material at a good price. Encouraged by the market potential he expanded his area under multiplication to five hectares in the 2016/17 season.
When asked what it takes to be a commercial vine multiplier in Malawi.
“First of all you need a strong passion and commitment to multiply quality material. Second, you need to be willing to invest in irrigation infrastructure and ensure you have committed staff that will maintain high quality standards. Last, it is important to set yourself a goal of what you want to achieve and identify all the steps you need to take to reach that goal,” explained Mabvuto.
As a result of his entrepreneurial spirit and investments, Mabvuto is now preparing orders of planting material in response to the large demand for clean planting material by NGO’s. One of his marketing strategies is to advertise on the radio and as results he receives phone calls from other commercial farmers who want to procure his planting material for root production.
He also considers the production of roots as a profitable enterprise and is planning to allocate OFSP varieties.
“There is high demand for these varieties because there is growing awareness that consuming OFSP is an important source of Vitamin A,” said Mabvuto.
In Malawi Vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem in women and children under five, especially in rural areas.
“I am glad that I can develop a viable business that provides employment and profit, while at the same time selling a high quality product that will largely benefit my fellow Malawians,” said Mabvuto
The MISST project has so far provided training to 40 potential multipliers that submitted proposals. The project provides technical support, training and advice does not guarantee any market and does not provide funds or equipment to these budding entrepreneurs. This ensures that only those willing to invest in irrigation infrastructure and have a marketing strategy will develop independent and sustainable businesses.
The orange-fleshed sweet potato component of the MISST project in Malawi provides access to clean planting material to over 62,500 households, increasing production, developing market potential, and increasing consumption of OFSP.