Kigali, 1 October 2015 – At the ‘I Love Sweetpotato’ exhibition at Hotel Villa Portofino, in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Johannes Chikarate, who works for Concern Worldwide in Malawi, sits in his stall, patiently waiting for visitors. Standing by his side is Kennedy Massamba, a sweetpotato researcher at the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi.
It is a long way from Nsanje, where Chikarate works as the Area Program Manager for the Food, Incomes and Markets Project of Concern Worldwide Malawi. He is happy with his first participation in the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) meeting which took place from 29 to 30 September 2015. The exhibition held on 1 October 2015 is the last event. “It was a very informative meeting for us, we are now more aware of the supporting facilities that CIP offers.” Chikarate, who is an agronomist by training, says that he understands well how to grow sweetpotatoes, but he is especially excited about the new opportunities he has identified for food processing. “I think we will be able to move into processing a little bit more than we have been doing in the past. We were only focusing on boiling and chips, and now I can say that there is a wider range of products that we should be looking at. Next time when we come, we will have more to showcase on the processing side, he says.
Concern Worldwide is an international non-governmental humanitarian organization headquartered in Ireland. In Malawi, the organization works in Nsanje, Lilongwe, Nkhotakota and Mchinji districts. The Food, Incomes and Markets Project started collaborating with the Scaling Up Sweetpotato Through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) project that is led by International Potato Center (CIP) in 2014. “We were struggling to find a source of clean orange-fleshed sweetpotato vines. We managed to get the planting materials from CIP for only four mother plots and 200 baby plots for Nsanje District. At harvest, the farmers started multiplying the planting materials on their own after seeing impressive yields on some of the varieties from the Mother and Baby trials. As we were getting into the next season six months ago, we decided to enter into a formal partnership and expand to three other districts,” Chikarate recalls. In Nsanje alone, the project has expanded from 223 farmers to 6,400 farmers.
Eyeing new potentials for OFSP processing
A third of Nsanje district is in the Shire river plains. In 2015, the district experienced severe flooding. As a flood recovery initiative, the project distributed OFSP planting materials to 6,000 households for them to use the residual moisture from the flooding to produce food. Within three months, people had sweetpotato roots for consumption and farmers also multiplied planting material on their own for use on extended areas. The increased production however faced a challenge – the processor to whom the project had linked farmers did not have enough production capacity to take up all the produce, thus excessive production was sold to the less viable markets.
This is one challenge that Chikarate feels he’ll be able to address after the SPHI meeting. “When I go back, I plan to engage some two or three interested OFSP processors in discussions; they may be able to fast-track our plans to process and absorb the current production of OFSP in Nsanje. Maybe next time we will have a loaf of bread with a fancy name at the exhibition.”
Massamba who works with the Department of Agricultural Research is also keen to see processing go up. He develops, promotes and disseminates sweetpotato varieties to farmers. “We multiply and feed clean planting material into the broader seed system,” he says.
According to Chikarate, three of these varieties (Chipika, Kudyaubwerere and Mathuthu) are doing very well in Nsanje, and the farmers are keen to increase their level of production. To ensure availability of planting material, the project has 97 registered and trained Decentralized Vine Multipliers operating in Nsanje. This fits in very well with Massamba’s plans to scale up.