Model farmers are risk takers. While others shy away relying on the tried and true, they are the community outliers who gamble on the possibilities new crops might provide. Ato Kidanu Gimray is one such farmer. When the 69 year-old gentleman, usually dressed in a suit jacket and neatly trimmed goatee, first decided to plant the newly introduced Orange Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) five years ago, his fellow farmers called him “crazy.” They imagined him losing a full harvest’s work when no market produced itself and asked,“ Who will buy it from you?”
In the drought-prone region of Tigray in Northern Ethiopia where stunting in children under 5 can reach as high as 46%, farmers are governed by the need to feed their family. Gambling on an untested crop can mean the difference between putting food on the table and cutting back on meals during the “lean” months when stockpiles of food run dry. Still, Kidanu, was willing to take the risk. Some of his children live and work in urban area and were familiar with sweetpotato. A trip facilitated by CIP to meet with other commercial vine multipliers in southern Tigray proved to him that there was money to be made in sweetpotato production.
The lure of profits convinced Kidanu to rent a plot of land close to a water source a pre-requisite to become a decentralized vine multiplier (DVM) in the dusty water scorched area in eastern Tigray. He was one of the first to undergo a series of OFSP trainings that covered everything from planting to post-harvest handling and one of the first to plant after receiving a loan of 5,000 birr ($235) worth of clean basic seed from the Tigray Agricultural Research Institute.
Big Profits Put OFSP Naysayers Doubts to Rest
He put OFSP naysayers doubts to rest that first year when he netted 37,000 ($1,734) birr in income selling his vines to schools, NGOs and local growers. He paid his loan back in full. The following year his OFSP continued to fill his coffers at a handsome 48,000 birr ($2,250) on the vines alone. He made additional 7000 birr ($ 328 ) in income from selling OFSP roots . Kidanu would have made a fraction of these profits if like other farmers in his community he’d dedicated himself to planting teff a grain used in the Ethiopian staple injera. Severe drought coupled with degraded land make for low teff production yields, while OFSP has been adapted to thrive in Eastern Tigray’s harsh conditions and require very little work.
His success turned him into an OFSP ambassador of sorts. In his community farmers belong to cooperatives and contribute part of their earnings to the group. As a result the exact amount he brought in was common knowledge to other farmers. “The cooperative members are seeing he is making money,” says Haile Tesfay, a CIP Irish Aid project coordinator in Tigray. “Now the cooperative members are interested in producing vines as well. Because of the receipts they saw how much he earned. This is very motivating. They are now coming to us and asking to produce like Kidanu.”
As a model farmer he used the training he received to pass on his knowledge to help interested parties begin participating in the growing sweetpotato value chain. He shares best practices on OFSP production and explains some of the cost-saving advantages of planting OFSP over other crops such as teff that after the first year seeds don’t need to be purchased as new plants can be grown from the vines. “When you plant [OFSP in subsequent seasons], you use your own cuttings,” Kidanu explains. “(With other crops like) white potato, what would be the cost? With OFSP you plant and get fruit and sell vines. This is [the benefit of] OFSP vine multiplication.”
Value Chains Creation Require Growth in Demand and Supply
Increased OFSP production is only one part of a successful equation. Whenever introducing a new food creating demand is critical for sales. CIP’s end goal is to increase dietary diversity and counteract hidden hunger and vitamin-A deficiency by making OFSP an accepted part of the local diet. Radio messages, recipes incorporating OFSP into staple food, and programs targeting school children and expectant mothers work hand-in-hand transforming OFSP into a go-to food.
Kidanu and his family have become walking advertisements for the merits of OFSP consumption and production. “This man, for us, he is the catalyst,” says Haile. “He convinces (others). If you have farmers like him you can facilitate adoption rate, they are key ingredient to our success.”
When people question Kidanu’s family about the tuber they rattle off its virtues; “It makes you mentally active, makes you healthy, and protects you from hunger,” Kidanu says. “And about its use: we can use [OFSP] in the form of flour, soup, bread, and injera.”
Kidanu’s wife Assefach Haileselasse tells other mothers how easy it is to replace 25% of the teff flour used in the thin round bread known as injera with mashed OFSP paste. Not only does it save money it gives women and children a powerful nutritional boost in an area where a recent survey showed that only 24.6% of children ages 6-23 months consumed vitamin-A rich fruit and vegetables, and 49% of the mothers reported experiencing night-blindness, one symptom of vitamin A deficiency.
Even Kidanu’s young granddaughter helps to convince others of OFSP’s merits. When harvest time comes the 5-year old grabs a stick and digs up the roots to eat it fresh from the soil.
“The success of Kidanu and other farmers in growing OFSP is vital in building up the production stage of the OFSP value chain,” says Haile. “A strong value chain is critical to changing feeding patterns and creating market demand for OFSP, which in turn will contribute to improved health in the region as a whole.”
Kidanu with some of his freshly harvested tubers. CIP Staff
OFSP: Knowledge is Key to Adoption
This year Kidanu planned on selling a million OFSP vines but might have to scale back due to severe drought and the fact that the growing seasons have been reduced from two to three a year to only one. Still, he is happy with his OFSP success and has used the money to diversify his income. With his earnings he’s been able to build up his savings in the bank, purchase beehives and livestock and most recently pay for his daughter’s dowry, often a heavy burden for a family.
Kidanu is eager for more people in his community to learn about the benefits of OFSP. He shares with others how all the plant is useful: the roots can be eaten and sold, there is a market for the vines, and the leaves can be feed to animals. For him, knowledge is the key to his community’s well-being. “A person’s way of thinking is the biggest asset,” he said. “If the community does not know, then it cannot develop assets. If the attitude of the society is changed, then there will be a change in the social life of the community. We should emphasize that the basic way to possess an asset is when the community brings attitudinal change. Then, second, changes in terms of money and capacity will follow. Knowledge brings that capacity.”
African Potato Association – Growing wealth and health for a diverse continent: In 2016 the 10th Triennial Conference of the African Potato Association (APA) will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and will be hosted by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the International Potato Center (CIP). The APA’s core objective is promote production and utilization of potato and sweetpotato for food and nutrition security in Africa and to facilitate knowledge sharing by bringing together diverse stakeholders in the potato sector across Africa. Drawing scientists, practitioners and entrepreneurs from over 20 African countries and abroad, the APA members cover an extensive range of research and development of the promising crops. If you are interested in finding out more about the APA or you are interesting in supporting or participating in the event please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org