The State of Odisha, located on the east coast of India, is the country’s biggest sweetpotato producer. The root crop is grown both during Kharif (wet, southwest monsoon, June-October) and Rabi (dry, post-monsoon, November-April); however its productivity is low, with yields of 9.1 t/ha compared to the Asian average of 15t/ha. The orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) rich in beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, is also of limited availability in Odisha, a state with high malnutrition and poverty rates.
In collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Horticulture of Odisha and the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI), CIP initiated a one-year program in November 2012, involving farmers in participatory trials with the objective of popularizing improved sweetpotato varieties and technologies for better income and nutrition in the Ganjam, Koraput and Dhenkanal districts of Odisha. This sweetpotato pilot project kicked off on January 18, 2013 with a launching workshop and planning meeting in Bhubaneswar, the state capital. The one-day event, which was attended by 50 participants representing various organizations and institutions, was also covered by the media with the launching program being broadcast on several television channels and featured in newspapers.
Sweetpotato transported on bicycles, Odisha
The pilot project covered an area of 360 hectares in three districts over two seasons. The objective was to technically train farmers and technicians in sweetpotato cultivation, including pre-planting, and to provide knowledge on sweetpotato utilization for improved income and nutrition. Because of a high demand for sweetpotato planting material, efforts were made to ensure the availability of varieties preferred by farmers. Some of these, for example the white to yellow-fleshed varieties Kanjan Gad (Denkhanal) and Jajpur local, are popular and have been commercially successful in the past two decades.
The project received a good response from farming communities in all three districts during the first season, because farmers were directly involved in the evaluation process. It was an opportunity for them to experiment with many varieties, both locally popular sweetpotatoes and improved varieties, including OFSPs, in their localities.
The farmers’ results were highly encouraging, prompting them to shift from local variety cultivation to improved variety cultivation, since 20% to 50% yield increase was observed in all three districts. The OFSP variety ‘CIP- 440127’ has attracted large numbers and many have chosen to assess its cultivation under local conditions, because it has become popular thanks to its nutritional advantage and taste.
After the successful evaluation of the pilot project, the Government of Odisha decided to approve a CIP-led mega-project, with a main proposal grant approved for US$1.5mln. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between CIP and the Government of Odisha on December 10, 2013 at the ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad, India. ICRISAT, another CGIAR research center, also hosted the project’s inaugural workshop. “The objective is to cover 1,325 hectares in four districts (Ganjam, Koraput, Sundergarh and Dhenkanal) with varieties that mainly include OFSP,” explained Dr. Sreekanth Attaluri, CIP’s Program Director for Odisha.
Baked sweetpotatoes sold in crowded streets, Odisha
For the whole of India, not only Odisha, sweetpotatoes have another advantage, namely that root and tuber crops have proven to be resilient in the event of natural disasters. They resisted well during and after cyclone Phailin, which struck Odisha in October 2013. After floods caused by the cyclone seriously damaged staple cereals and pulses, CIP and India’s Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) quickly advised government officials and farmers to harvest root and tuber crops, which were consumed by more than a quarter million people in the district after the cyclone.
“Crops such as sweetpotato should be better recognized by authorities for their resilience to damage caused by cyclones, when immediate food is needed,” said Julian Parr, CIP Director for Asia. He added: “I am glad that the Government of Odisha, in collaboration with CIP through the GAINS project, gave support to resource-poor farmers when this was needed to meet the food and nutrition demand.”