Taking sweetpotato from farm to table in rural Malawi

In Malawi, the orange fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) has huge potential to contribute to food security, better nutrition and livelihoods. Staff at the International Potato Center (CIP) have recognized this potential and are busy working to get it into the hands farmers and onto the plates of children in rural Malawi to improve the lives of those vulnerable to malnutrition, specifically to Vitamin A deficiency.

In Malawi orange fleshed sweetpotato is under appreciated in regards to its contribution to farm family resilience and its current and potential role in sustainable food security. As such, CIP is implementing the Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) to do something about this. With the ambitious aim of reaching 75,000 households with children under 5 years of age with planting material of nutritious OFSP varieties (along with nutrition messages and counseling), CIP is taking an aggressive approach to the distribution of OFSP varieties across the country.

In the initial stages of the project, CIP has implemented a set of ‘quick start activities’ whereby the team is accelerating the multiplication of planting material of five new varieties as well as the establishment of farmer managed mother and baby variety demonstrations in three districts in the south. The priority is getting quality planting material into the hands of farmers and testing varieties so that the varieties can be scaled up and made available to larger audience when suitable.

To achieve this staff at the International Potato Center work closely with specially identified farmer groups who will help to trial, multiply, harvest and promote sweetpotato varieties.

Here orange fleshed sweetpotato vines are labelled and bundled ready for planting and distribution in the field. A bundle consists of 100 30 cm length cuttings with each plot requiring 85 cuttings.

At the field the project staff work alongside the farming group to prepare the field for planting the sweetpotato cuttings. Each variety is planted on a plot which has 5 ridges spaced at 75cm apart. Spacing between cuttings on the ridge is 30 cm. Each plot requires 85 cuttings with 17 cuttings planted on each ridge.

Once the field has been measured and marked, the farmers prepare the soil for planting. Using a hoe the farmers loosen the soil so that the cuttings can be easily planted.

With the field marked and the soil ready, the farmers begin the process of planting the vines. The farmers line up along the edge of the field and plant one cutting along each ridge at 30 cm intervals.

Once the OFSP cuttings have been planted in the field they are watered to keep the soil moist and the plants healthy.

Whilst the planting is being finalized, the staff IT specialist works with the lead farmer to enter data into the programs monitoring system. Information such as OFSP variety, vines distributed and participant details are entered directly into a tablet on site to improve accuracy and collection of relevant information.

At the end of the planting, farmers receive detailed information about each of the OFSP varieties that they have planted, including yield, colour, nutrition and other details sourced from the OFSP catalog that CIP publishes every few years. Farmers also receive nutrition education pamphlets produced by CIP and our development partner Concern Worldwide.

Once the planting is complete, farmers return to their village, where more OFSP planting material is distributed to the participating farmers. Each farmer receives a bundle of OFSP cuttings to take home and plant.

Farmers pose with the bundle of orange fleshed sweetpotato vines they have just received and which are ready for planting in their household farms.

The entire farming group poses with their orange fleshed sweetpotato vine cuttings and nutrition information.

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.