What really sparked this thought process for me was a study of FAOSTAT data for Uganda, which used to have the greatest production of sweetpotato in Africa. It showed that, over the last 20 yrs (to 2013), neither total annual production nor productivity of sweetpotato there have increased. At the same time, the productivities of rice and maize have almost doubled and their productions have trebled. The population of Uganda has meantime doubled so the per capita consumption of sweetpotato has halved. This is despite huge problems in the country with cassava and matooke bananas, the (then) competing main staples. The data also fitted with what I was seeing in Uganda and also that Namulonge has recently largely released OFSP varieties with only small improvements e.g. over NASPOT 1 in terms of total dry matter yield – fitting with the FAOSTAT data. So:
Ø Is OF being more highly rated than root yield?
Ø Is this because sweetpotato is now perceived by both consumers and researchers as a nutritious vegetable rather than as a staple food?
Ø If so, is this good? Is this bad? Is a decline in sweetpotato consumption inevitably and is being classed as a vegetable a comfortable slot for it?
Ø Sweetpotato is being touted as ‘climate smart’ (Graham Thiele, at African Potato Association (APA) meeting this year in Addis) – but as a vegetable is it becoming ‘climate irrelevant’?
I realized that I was using data based on only one country (Uganda) but it used to be the country with the largest sweetpotato production in Africa and it does have one of the best sweetpotato breeding programmes. So arguably it is leading the way! I also decided it probably was relevant to more than just Uganda: at the SPHI and APA meetings in Addis, along with the ‘buzz’ associated with OFSP winning the World Food Prize, a quick check of the APA abstracts (from lots of countries in Africa) revealed that OFSP/ vitamin A got far more hits than root yield (at least x2). It is true that elsewhere FAOSTAT data are somewhat different but also somewhat similar. FAOSTAT shows we’ve had increases in area and total production for the whole of Africa – but no appreciable change in yield from 1965 onwards. Can we stay as a mainstream staple if we don’t increase the yield?
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