OFSP farming in Rwanda

My name is Marie Claire Mukakimenyi. I am 57 years old and I have been a farmer here in Rwanda all my life. I am a widow with 5 children to care for – 3 girls and 2 boys.

I was one of the first people here to receive orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) vines from the International Potato Center through the SASHA (Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa) project, which was being implemented by the International Potato Center here in Rwanda. I was given OFSP vines for planting and I also received training on how to farm OFSP and multiply the vines.

When I received the OFSP vines, I decided that I would plant them on my farm. The CIP agronomist who visited my farm taught me all about OFSP – how to improve my farming practices, how to plant and take care of OFSP. They also told me all about the nutritional benefits of eating OFSP.

I realized very quickly that I could increase my income with orange-fleshed sweetpotato. I also saw that other farmers in the community were interested in finding out about OFSP and were willing to pay a little extra for the crop. Once I realized this, I learnt everything I could about OFSP.

I decided to mobilize a group of farmers in the local area to grow OFSP. We quickly realized that there was a strong interest in OFSP among the wider farming community and at the marketplace.

At the start they (the other farmers) used to think I was silly for growing OFSP as it was a new and unknown crop and the farmers were not sure what to think about it. But now they can see how well I have done from OFSP farming and now they want to learn from me and farm OFSP.

Since I started farming OFSP I have been able to make more money – I have been able to install electricity in my house. I bought a TV and my family and I can now watch the news each day and know what is happening in the world. The local farmers have seen my achievements over the last few years and so it has been easy to convince them of the benefits of farming OFSP.

We are also very glad to know that OFSP is rich in Vitamin A. I eat OFSP every day to improve my sight. I am also diabetic. I need these vitamins to keep me strong and healthy. I always make sure that I include OFSP as part of my diet and my families diet. We like to boil them, fry them and roast them. Because I know how good OFSP is for your health I make sure that we have OFSP on our plates every day.

Now that there are a group of OFSP farmers in the area, we work together to sell OFSP. We harvest OFSP and sell them to the local factory in town, which makes commercial products from the roots. We also take the crop to the local market to sell and we process OFSP to make baked goods to sell at the marketplace.

We also make use of the OFSP vines. We sell the vines to farmers in the local area and to farmer groups outside of the region as well. We also give the vines away for free to those families that cannot afford them. It is a great way to give a family an opportunity to make some money and to also improve their family’s health.

With OFSP I have been able to increase my income and it is more reliable. The income I get from OFSP farming means that I can help my children – three of my children are at university and I am paying for their school fees with this money.

I have also used this income to construct a second house just nearby. Because of the regular income I was receiving from OFSP I was able to get a loan from the bank to build the second house. I rent the house to a tenant, which means that I have extra income for my family. One day I will give the second house to my son to live in.

In Rwanda, the International Potato Center (CIP) is disseminating technologies for Orange Fleshed Sweetpotato to smallholder farmers and working to link these farmers to markets for fresh roots as well as commercial processors. The Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition project (SUSTAIN) in Rwanda has been designed together with the Rwanda Bureau of Agriculture (RAB) to integrate its nutrition messages and support activities with the Ministry of Health’s programs to reduce malnutrition through a combination of crop diversification and supplementation programs.

In Rwanda, CIP’s work under the SASHA (Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa) project demonstrated that through effective private public partnerships we can build a sweetpotato value chain that is pro-poor and pro-women. As such, the SUSTAIN project intends to scale up the development of a OFSP seed system, link the beneficiaries to the market through effective partnerships and integrate agriculture-nutrition health linkages to deliver OFSP to various segments of Rwanda households. SUSTAIN Rwanda intends to reach 50,000 direct beneficiaries and 250,000 indirect beneficiaries by 2018, while providing smallholder households with appropriate nutrition information and counseling for infant and young children among farming communities in selected districts.

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.