Beating hunger and Vitamin A deficiency through Orange fleshed sweetpotato in Malawi

Posted by , posted on Wednesday February 17 2016(1 year ago)

Beating hunger and Vitamin A deficiency with Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP): A story of farmers at Njolo Irrigation Scheme in Mtakataka Extension Planning Area, Dedza District of Malawi

It is 8 am in the morning, but the sun is already blistering hot as if it were midday.  Under the shade of 3 mango trees sit a group of men and women from the Senior Group Village Headman Kafuluma. They are eager to know what will come out of the orange-fleshed sweetpotato trials (known as Mother & Baby Trials) that were planted in June 2015 courtesy of Dedza CADECOM a key partner in the district. CADECOM is a relief and development arm of the Catholic Church in Malawi mainly engaged in food security, disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change and natural resources management. CADECOM has hosted 25 trials of orange-fleshed sweetpotato in 2 Extension Planning Area of Golomoti and Mtakataka which were hit by floods in the 2014/2015 growing season. Farmers in these areas are at a risk of hunger and need to utilize the irrigated farming season to leverage their food production.

Mother and Baby Trials

The Mother and Baby approach as devised by the International Potato Center (CIP) is a tool upon which the 6 new and nutritious OFSP varieties of Anaakwanire, Chipika, Kadyaubwelere, Kaphulira, Mathuthu and Zondeni are being disseminated. A single mother plot has 1 host farmer and 50 follower farmers. The host farmer has all 6 OFSP varieties and the follower farmers receive just one bundle of one variety. The follower farmers are encouraged to visit the host farmer to share knowledge and experiences during field days which are organized by extension workers and local leaders during harvesting of the crop.

Njolo Irrigation Scheme

Njolo is a 20 ha irrigation scheme where farmers grow a myriad of crops including maize, beans and other vegetables. Sweetpotatoes are rarely grown under irrigation let alone the orange-fleshed ones. This is because  sweetpotatoes are a relatively low value crops compared to vegetables and other high value horticultural crops such as potatoes. Nevertheless farmers in Malawi appreciate that sweetpotato is an important crop as they are more drought tolerant than other crops and can do well even without adequate rains. More importantly, orange fleshed sweetpotato is also rich in pro-vitamin A, a key element in fighting malnutrition which is common in Malawi affecting with high rates of stunting, underweight and wasting in children under 5.

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Fig 1: Readily available source of Vitamin A: A group of children carry big roots of Mathuthu one of the 6 OFSP varieties being disseminated by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in  collaboration with the Department of agriculture Research Services (DARS), The Department of Agriculture Extension Services (DAES) and the Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (CADECOM) in Dedza district. (Photo Credit: Brian Kachisa, Training & Promotions Officer/CIP Malawi).

Composition of the beneficiaries at Njolo Irrigation Scheme

The introduction of the 6 OFSP varieties to the irrigation scheme happened at just the right time.  100 farmers comprising 63 females and 37 males received a bundle of just one of the 6 nutritious OFSP Sweetpotato varieties as baby farmers. Two farmers, Mr. Chibwana and GVH Kafuluma both received a bundle of each of the 6 OFSP varieties as mother farmers.

Yields

When harvesting the mother plots, particular attention is paid to the net plot which comprises of the 3 inner ridges. In the inner ridges, 2 border planting stations are left so that 13 plants are harvested per ridge. 39 planting stations comprise the net plot during harvesting when vine establishment is at 100%.  During harvesting both the large and small roots are counted and weighed. Vine weight is also recorded in addition to the number of roots with weevil damage.

Sweetpotato weevil is one of the major pests affecting production of the crop in many parts of the country. In this round it was only the variety Kaphulira which displayed weevil damage – this variety is susceptible to weevil damage partly because it matures early (3.5 months) meaning that  cracks are formed on the ridges in the soil which are then an entry point for the weevil.

Table 1: Summary of yield data that were collected at Mr. Francis Chibwana field.

Variety

No. harvested

With Roots

Without Roots

Big

weight

Small

Weight

Total wt

Vine wt

# of weeviled roots

Chipika

37

32

5

38

13.6

28

2.62

16.2

14

0

Zondeni

38

38

0

61

18.65

76

4.29

22.9

12.8

0

Anaakwanire

39

39

0

54

12.44

82

5.03

17.5

17.7

0

Mathuthu

13

13

0

24

22.45

8

0.97

23.4

24.1

0

Kadyaubwelere

39

39

0

40

21.54

19

2.45

24

17.7

0

Kaphulira

27

27

0

25

8.28

18

1.23

9.51

8.01

1

Kadyaubwelere and Mathuthu were the highest yielding varieties with 25.4 metric tons per ha and 24.5 metric tons per ha respectively. There were only 13 planting stations that were harvested from Mathuthu variety. Even though this was the case, the yield from this net plot was not significantly different from that of Kadyaubwelere where all plants were harvested. Thus, given all the plants in the net plot, it can be suggested that only a third of the potential yield of Mathuthu orange-fleshed sweetpotato variety were realized.

Surprisingly, Zondeni which is generally depicted as a low yielder, at 8-16 tons/ha (according to previous CIP research) gave the third highest yields of up to 24.2 metric tons per ha at this mother plot. In addition, Mtakataka which generally has a warm to hot agro-ecological zone which was believed not favour zondeni in terms of root production but vine production as from past experience defied this norm. This was not the case where even the roots were big and well developed. This was followed by Anaakwanire (18.5 tons/ha), Chipika (17.1 tons/ha) and Kaphulira (10.06 tons/ha).

It should also be noted that these high yields were attained without applying any form of fertilizer. However farmers were encouraged to grow the orange-fleshed sweetpotatos on a good piece of land that is well drained, has high organic matter content and preferably engage in crop rotation.

How farmers and local leaders in Mtakataka perceive the new OFSP varieties in the area

Generally farmers in Malawi did not segregate orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) from other sweetpotatoes (white, yellow or cream coloured varieties) during production and marketing. This is mainly due to lack of the knowledge among the smallholder farmers on the nutritional benefits of OFSP.

CIP is working with Dedza CADECOM to implement a food security project in the area. Among other things CADECOM distributes relief food items, livestock i.e. goats and chickens and also led the construction of the irrigation scheme. CADECOM staff and beneficiaries were trained on the nutritional benefits of OFSP over other coloured sweetpotato varieties.

When the OFSP bundles were distributed to the farmers in June 2015, it came as a surprise to the majority of them mainly due to the unit of measurement of the OFSP Seed. Traditionally, farmers in Malawi usually measure sweetpotato seed in a 50 kg bag by volume and the quantities are substantial. However, getting just a bundle of 100 vine cuttings of 30cm length, was unusual and according to most of the farmers not enough. However farmers were happy when high yields that were realized from one bundle of each of the OFSP varieties that were distributed. All the farmers agreed that all the 6 OFSP varieties are high yielding and were adopted for further seed multiplication and more importantly production and utilisation.

Current status of OFSP at Njolo Irrigation

All of the 102 farmers at the scheme were trained in vine preservation to ensure that they have seed ready for the forth coming rainy season (2015-16). Some participating farmers have set up decentralised vine multiplication sites (DVMs) to ensure sustainability of OFSP seed availability and this will enhance OFSP production and productivity as well as bring incomes to their households.

‘The activities took place under the Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project funded by USAID. CADECOM Dedza is an implementing partner of the DAI-led Feed the Future Integrating Nutrition in Value Chains (INVC) project. This story is an example of successful integration of activities between the MISST and INVC projects in the Feed the Future Zone of Influence in Malawi’.

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Fig 2: A proud famer, displaying huge roots of Mathuthu after harvesting at the irrigation Scheme

(Photo Credit: Thokozani Mvula, CIP Research Technician, Dedza District)

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Fig 3: ‘This is how we harvest’….. An Extension Worker explaining to the farmers on how to harvest

the Orange fleshed sweetpotato trials (Photo credit: Brian Kachisa, Training and Promotions Officer, CIP Lilongwe, Malawi)

 

This post was originally published on the CIP website

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