For the past three years, the International Potato Center’s (CIP) SweetGAINS program in Africa has been conducting market research aimed at helping sweetpotato breeders better understand the traits and qualities that consumers want. These preferences differ by market segment. Women tend to prefer taste and cookability while male farmers think in terms of yield and storage.
Building on this research, SweetGAINS (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is conducting on farm trials for eight varieties in Uganda. After the conclusion of these trials, the most successful of these varieties will be released in Uganda.
The importance of the trial phase cannot be understated. Working close with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), CIP has selected farmers to host the trials and to monitor their operations. Currently trials are underway in 15 districts representing different agricultural zones and five farmers are selected per district.
The research team aims to select diverse groups for the trials. For example, 40% of the trials were hosted by farmer groups and cooperatives, among which membership was over 60% female. For the trials hosted on individually-owned plots, women accounted for 30%. All trial hosts are expected to monitor the assessment and provide labor through field preparation, planting and weeding.
Not only is the data from the trials valuable, but the farmers acquire some ancillary benefits by virtue of hosting the trials, including:
- Stronger farmer groups through co-equal participation in the trials;
- Experience hosting trials and understanding the methods of varieties testing;
- Exposure to new sweetpotato varieties for improved nutrition and incomes; and
- Improved agronomic practices for sweetpotato cultivation.
For the research team, working with farmer groups is a good strategy for scaling up knowledge through communities and, because of high female membership in these groups, is a solid way to ensure that women have equal access to information and new varieties.
Following the conclusion of the on-farm trials, CIP and NARO will begin consumer testing of the selected varieties.
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, SweetGAINS aims to modernize Africa’s current systems for sweetpotato breeding and early generation seed production. The resulting improved varieties and their rapid dissemination and adoption will provide a strong foundation for better nutrition and diversified diets among rural and urban households across the continent.