- April 12, 2022
- Posted by: Mariam Kasemiire
- Category: Uncategorized
Sweet potato is an important root crop in East African countries. In some communities, it is a vital staple crop. The crop plays a significant role in the farming and food systems in East African countries and has a number of health benefits. The Vitamin A orange-fleshed cultivars are important in alleviating Vitamin A deficiency in children and expectant mothers. The crop also has potential for increasing household income through selling of vines, fresh tubers, and processed products such as puree and flour that are used in confectionaries. Largely, the crop has potential to contribute to food and nutrition security, as well as wealth creation. However, sustainable production of sweet potato is limited, by among other factors, diseases particularly those of viral origin like the sweet potato virus disease. Worldwide, over 30 viruses infect the crop.
Since 2006, a consortium of scientists from the Department of Agricultural Production, Makerere University; Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT); Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute Mikocheni (TARI-M), Addis Ababa University, and Rwanda Agricultural Board has been working to address the challenge with the aim of contributing to food security and economic development of the East African countries. Through a project titled; “Towards Sustainable Cassava and Sweet Potato Production in East Africa” funded by SIDA under the East African Regional Programme and Research Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy Development known as BIO-EARN (2006-2010), the researchers set out to generate technologies as well as strengthen the human resource capacity to facilitate sweet potato genetic improvement and clean seed production. In 2011, the Consortium, through a SIDA- funded project titled; “Enhancing Food Security through Improved Seed Systems of Appropriate Varieties of Cassava, Potato and Sweet Potato Resilient to Climate Change”, evaluated and deployed the elite varieties of sweet potato that are adapted to climate change in diverse agro-ecologies. They also developed and institutionalised efficient sweet potato seed multiplication and delivery systems. Through these two projects, the researchers identified appropriate varieties of sweet potato seed, and developed disease diagnostic protocols and rapid multiplication techniques with the aim of promoting use of high quality sweet potato planting material.
The ICOPSEA Project
Following the achievements in the first two projects, SIDA through the BioInnovate Africa Programme in 2018 extended more funding to the Consortium to support the commercialization of the sweet potato seed value chain. The project titled; Integrating ICT in Commercial Production of Quality Sweet Potato Planting Material in East Africa (ICOPSEA) aimed to contribute to enhanced food and income security among smallholder farmers in East Africa. It also aimed to develop a sustainable private-sector-led sweet potato system in East Africa with enterprises developed along the seed value chain.
Specific objectives of ICOPSEA Project
- Ensuring that adequate quantities of quality sweet potato seed are available for smallholder farmers in East Africa
- Developing a field-based disease diagnostic kit for sweet potato seed quality control
- Designing a sweet potato web-based mobile app (Viazi Vitamu App) to facilitate access to information, seed inspection, as well as monitoring of production and marketing of the sweet potato seed
The three-year project implemented between January 2018-June 2021 was headed by Prof. Samuel Kyamanywa from the Department of Agricultural Production, CAES, Makerere University. Other members on the project included; Prof. Elijah Ateka from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT); Dr Settumba Mukasa, Director SENAI Farm Supplies Limited, Uganda; Ms. Ann Kitisya, Director MIMEA International Kenya Limited; Dr Fred Tairo, Principal Agricultural Research Officer, Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI) Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Dr Placide Rukundo, Research Fellow, Roots and Tubers, Rwanda Agricultural Research Board.
Project Closing Meeting and Achievements Registered
At the project closing meeting held on 7th April 2022 in the School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio-Engineering Conference Room at Makerere University, the researchers led by Prof. Kyamanywa highlighted the achievements registered including; identification of 24 varieties for commercial certified seed production; development of an institutionalised commercial sweet potato seed system in East Africa- involving Universities and National Agricultural Research Institutes as providers of clean seed to private companies that sell to vine multipliers; and involvement of Government phytosanitary and certifying agencies in ensuring high quality seed is available for the farmers. Other achievements included; the development of infrastructure to support seed production, a field-based disease diagnostic kit for detecting viruses and different varieties of purees and flour used in confectionary industries. The project also supported the training of five MSc students and one PhD in crop science, agricultural economics, rural development, and data communication and software engineering. The team also developed a web-based mobile app to facilitate access to information, seed inspection and monitoring of production and marketing of the sweet potato seed. According to Dr Drake Mirembe, the Viaz app tracks extension service delivery using a garden mapping module. It also supports on farm reporting.
The researchers are working towards strengthening linkages between the seed growers, tuber producers, processors and consumers. Plans are also underway to strengthen the inspection and certification process and having positive reinforcements for non-users of clean seed.
In his remarks, Prof. Kyamanywa appreciated SIDA and BioInnovate Africa for the significant support extended towards projects at CAES and Makerere University in general. He also appreciated the partners for their contribution in the implementation of the project.
Remarks by the Guest of Honour
Addressing participants, the Commissioner in charge of Crop Inspection and Certification at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Mr. Paul Mwambu applauded the researchers for the great initiative, saying it would largely address challenges of food insecurity in the country, but also increase foreign export earnings. “Sweet potato is a very important crop for our country in terms of food and nutrition security but also income generation. The crop is increasingly becoming a major foreign exchange earner. In a week, we export 30 tonnes of sweet potato through Entebbe Airport alone, and if you assess exports by sea, they could be five times more. For these strategic reasons, the Ministry is going to carry forward the products generated out of the project because they make economic sense,” he noted. He further explained that the products generated from the project would largely decrease expenditure on importation of wheat which currently stands at UGX400 million per year. “As advised by the researchers, blending sweet potato and cassava flour with wheat in the confectionary industries can reduce expenditure on the importation of wheat. If we blend by at least 30%, we shall create market for the local farmers,” he noted.
He called for more investment in the production of quality planting materials to increase the value Ugandan products on the world market and to limit post-harvest losses.