How do you eat your sweetpotato?

Orange fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) is making its way on to the farms and into the kitchens of smallholder farmers in Malawi. With support form the International Potato Center (CIP) farmer groups have been undertaking varietal evaluation to find out which types of sweetpotato grow best in different parts of the country and which varieties appeal most to the local consumers in rural and urban Malawi. These field tastings will help CIP and our partners to scale up the nutrition benefits of biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato in Malawi.

In Malawi, CIP is working to have a significant impact on agriculture, markets and nutrition by reaching 75,000 households with children under 5 years of age with planting material for nutritious orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) varieties, nutrition messages and counseling in order to contribute to increased food availability, increased dietary diversity and improved Vitamin A nutrition of women and children in Malawi.

CIP has partnered with Concern Worldwide to conduct farmer OFSP variety evaluations, in order to understand farmer and market preferences for traits such as yield, taste, colour, size, texture and others and to increase farmer access to those preferred varieties.

Mega Tsoka and Klaiyeka Jickson harvest orange fleshed sweetpotato as part of the CIP led evaluation of 6 varieties of OFSP in Malawi. Farmers from the surrounding district have come together to harvest this OFSP plot, which was planted with vines provided by CIP. After 4 months of careful management, the OFSP roots are now ready for harvest.

The harvested roots and vines from the OFSP variety Mathuthu are ready for counting and to be prepared for taste testing. In Malawi, six OFSP varieties are being tested and evaluated: Chipika; Mathuthu; Kaphulira; Kadyaubwerere; Anaakwanire and Zondeni.

The Zondeni variety was discovered in Malawi in 2001. It has been improved over the years and was officially recommended by the Malawi Department of Agriculture Research (DARs) in 2008. The other five varieties were released by DARS in 2011 and since then, planting material for these five varieties has been multiplied and promoted on a small scale.

Once the plants are harvested, the roots and vines from each variety are counted, weighed, and bundled. CIP staff gather the information on each variety – from average root size, to weight of vines and yield per plant. They enter the information directly into a tablet in the field for later analysis. Here the vines and roots of the Mathuthu variety are ready to be counted and weighed.

Mega Tsoka, a Malawian farmer participating in one of the SUSTAIN OFSP field trials, prepares a bundle of OFSP vines for weighing as part of the overall evaluation of each variety.

Once the plants have been harvested, weighed and counted, the farmers prepare the OFSP roots for cooking and tasting. Teleza Alinodi prepares boiling water alongside the OFSP field so that she can cook the OFSP varieties ready for the on site taste evaluation.

While the water is being boiled, the farmers carefully wash the OFSP roots in cold water and let them dry before they are cooked in boiling water.

Varieties are cooked separately so that each one can be tasted and evaluated. This simple cooking process maintains each variety’s natural colour, taste and texture. The roots are left to cool for awhile before they are peeled and chopped.

Once cooked, the OFSP roots are prepared for tasting. Here, Teleza Alinodi gently peels a root after it has been cooked.

The 6 varieties being evaluated are now cooked and ready for tasting. The information that CIP staff gather from the farmers will be fed into a larger database of sweetpotato trait preferences.

Natasha Chingwalu, from Concern Worldwide, conducts a taste test with farmer Aaron Chiothamisi. The varieties are laid out for tasting without any labeling, so that farmers don’t know which variety they are evaluating. During the process, the participant answers a series of questions about the taste, texture, size and colour of each variety.

Once the taste evaluation interviews are finished, all the sweetpotato roots are peeled and displayed by variety for the entire group to taste and enjoy. Here a group of female farmers display 6 varieties of orange-fleshed sweetpotato that are ready for tasting.

Here, the variety Anaakwanire has been chopped up ready for tasting. The sweetpotato’s vibrant orange colour is an appealing aspect of this variety!

Concern Worldwide Nutrition Advisor Thokozani Kalanje enters data from the harvest and tasting directly into a tablet. The tablet works offline in the field, but she’ll upload the data into a central database once she returns to the office. The data collected during these field visits are helping researchers understand farmer and consumer preferences and choices regarding OFSP in Malawi, which is crucial for achieving CIP’s goals.

Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) is a five-year partnership (2013-2018) coordinated by the International Potato Center (CIP) and financed by the UK Department for International Development to spread the nutrition benefits of biofortified OFSP to more farmers. The program aims to reach 1.2 million households with children under 5 years across four countries: Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Rwanda through mutually-reinforcing incentives to increase adoption of OFSP, consumption of Vitamin-A-rich foods, and diversification of OFSP utilization.