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Importance of Sweetpotato for Sub-Saharan Africa

Increasingly, sub-Saharan African (SSA) farmers are responding to the decline in cultivable land size due to increasing population by growing more root and tuber crops, which yield more per unit area than grain crops do. Sweetpotato is one of the most widely grown root crops in Sub-Saharan Africa. 


The crop is highly tolerant to weeds, growing in poor soils, with relatively few natural enemies, which means that harmful pesticides are rarely used to produce it, and it needs less fertilizer and labor than other crops.It is considered a low labour, low cost and low risk crop which helps families struggling with illness, increasing care requirements and resource losses due to the impact of HIV/AIDS. It is a crop that is predominantly grown by resource poor smallholder farmers, particularly women. 


As agriculture becomes more market-oriented in SSA, sweetpotato is one of several crops that farmers can produce to obtain cash income in addition to subsistence food security. Markets for fresh roots and vines do exist but are not yet large. However, with rapid urbanization, it is projected that anticipated food system changes are likely to lead to an increase in demand for fresh roots and value-added sweetpotato-based products. 


Sweetpotato roots are a healthy food: all varieties have high levels of vitamins C and E, several B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium and fiber. The orange-fleshed varieties are very high in pro-vitamin A or beta-carotene, which when eaten is converted into vitamin A. They also have anti-carcinogenic and cardiovascular disease-preventing properties. 


There are real opportunities to boost the productivity and utilization of sweetpotato, and investing in this will directly benefit the poor through improving their incomes and nutritional status.