Orange-fleshed sweetpotato is key to positive change in Ethiopia

Umer Yusuf is an energetic farmer living in Bishan Babilie village in Babile district, Ethiopia. Like many farmers in his area, Yusuf is challenged to produce enough healthy food on his farm to keep his wife and nine children food secure and properly nourished. In the field, pests, weeds (e.g., striga) and drought present formidable obstacles.  

But help for Yusuf and others arrived in 2020 in the form of the Development and Delivery of Bio-fortified Crops at Scale (DDBIO) project, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) of the United Kingdom and with technical support from the International Potato Center (CIP). 

Umer Yusuf plants orange-fleshed sweetpotato on his farm in Bishan Babilie, Ethiopia. The nutritious crop is changing his family’s prospects for food security and livelihood. (Photo: Mohammed Jilo)

Working through agricultural extension agents, CIP and DDBIO provided 10,000 cuttings to be used to cultivate biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP). This nutritious crop is easy to grow, matures quickly, and provides robust levels of vitamin A to ward off diseases. The surplus OFSP can be sold at market for extra income. 

Yusuf planted OFSP cuttings on his farm on one-fifth of a hectare, guided by training and support he had received from extension agents for site selection, land preparation, planting methods, fertiliser application, earthing up and intergrated pest management. The plants began bearing roots within 3.5 months after planting and a single cutting yields 10-12 roots. 

“Root yields of a single cutting of OFSP can feed my family a meal per day,” said Yusuf.  

Umer Yusuf holds some OFSP roots grown on his farm with assistance from the International Potato Center through the DDBIO project. (Photo: Kemal Kasim)

Yusuf harvests six tons of roots, enough to feed his family for five months and earn USD 400 selling surplus in the market. His family prepares several tasty recipes for OFSP – boiled, fried and mashed.

Yusuf is just one of thousands of poor smallholder farmers who have benefitted from DDBIO over the course of this project. In 2020, CIP distributed 2.7 million OFSP vine cuttings to more than 6,600 smallholder farmers in nine districts in Eastern Ethiopia. More than 40% of the recipients were women. In total, these cuttings were enough to plant 54 hectares of OFSP with estimated root yields of 1,620 metric tonnes. 

But CIP understands that growing OFSP is not enough; training and education are essential to ensure high yields and nutrition. Working with local agriculture extension and health offices, DDBIO provided courses on agronomy, seed systems, integrated pest management, harvesting and post-harvest handling, processing and utilization, and nutrition and health. Edao Ambomsa, an agronomist and DDBIO focal person in Babile district says, nearly 80% of the families included in the project reported multiple benefits from OFSP.

The great taste of OFSP makes it popular with families. “My children prefer this food because it for the sweet taste. I feel better because I see them getting more nutrition,” says Yusuf. “In my language we say ‘Miidhagni Afaaniin nama seena,’ which means, ‘Your beauty comes through your mouth.’ Watching my children eat OFSP makes them look healthier.” 

The extra income is helping Yusuf address other household needs, including clothes for his children and school materials. He also used his OFSP profit to purchase a bull to help him with ploughing his farmland. He plans to nourish the bull to a better weight and then sell her for more income. The start of a positive spiral rooted in OFSP! 

Yusuf has used profits from OFSP to purchase livestock to assist him in the fields. He saves time and will earn more money on future harvests thanks to OFSP. (Photo: Kemal Kasim)
By Setegn Gebeyehu (CIP), Mohammed Abinasa (CIP), Dandena Gelmesa (Haramaya University), and Kemal Kasim Ahmed (Haramaya University).