Making the connections in the landscape: Harnessing the power of sweetpotato for vulnerable populations

The International Potato Center (CIP) led by World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Maria Andrade officially launched the global Climate Resilience through Sweetpotato (CReSP) initiative. The goal of CReSP is to fully utilize the potential of sweetpotato for improving nutrition security and livelihoods of vulnerable populations in the face of climate change. CReSP was launched on 16th November, at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), the lead side event of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP22) talks held in Marrakech, Morrocco from 8 – 18 November 2016.

Sweetpotato thriving in Mozambique during a drought.
Sweetpotato thriving in Mozambique during a drought.

“CReSP is about connecting climate resilient and nutritious sweetpotato technologies with diverse partnerships for delivery and placing this effort within a broader landscape perspective to build resilience”, said Dr. Andrade during the launch. “This is a new initiative that we are launching today. But we already have activities ongoing in several countries including Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Bangladesh where we have started to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach”.

Work in these countries shows that long-term investment in the development of improved crop varieties is essential for the resilience of food systems; as is the capacity to get these technologies to farmers and to keep adapting and improving on the basis of sound evidence. “CreSP’s mission is to make climate resilient and nutritious sweetpotato available globally to help strengthen ongoing efforts to stabilize and improve food and nutrition security in regions particularly vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change” said Dr. Simon Heck, Sweetpotato Program Leader at CIP. “While sweetpotato is at the core of CReSP, we have learned that our work can only have impact if it is linked with agricultural interventions and with other sectors ranging from natural resources, water, nutrition and governance. For this reason, we welcomed the invitation to launch CReSP at GLF and we look forward to being part of this platform.”

Sound and proven sweetpotato technologies

Together with national partners in over 10 countries, CIP has bred biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) varieties that have been shown to be highly effective in reducing vitamin A deficiency and other forms of malnutrition. In several countries, OFSP varieties have been further adapted to new challenges from climatic changes, such as droughts, floods, higher temperatures and soil salinity. “In Mozambique, we have realized the potential of several sweetpotato varieties to perform relatively well under drought conditions and higher temperatures and to establish well and quickly after floods”, said Dr. Andrade. CIP and IIAM (Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique) have systemically exploited this potential of sweetpotato and have developed and released over 20 climate-smart OFSP varieties for different parts of Mozambique.

Partnerships for delivery

Getting improved sweetpotato varieties to farmers where and when they need them is a key challenge for reaping the benefits of improved sweetpotato varieties. CIP and its partners has developed guidelines, training material and simple technologies for developing sustainable systems for the multiplication and dissemination of sweetpotato planting material under different agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions, including in the context of disaster risk reduction.

Delivery, however, goes beyond the dissemination of planting material. It entails building broad public awareness of the nutrition benefits of OFSP and supporting vulnerable households with training and counseling to improve their production and utilization of OFSP.

Solid evidence base

CReSP emphasizes the importance of a strong evidence base to support continued innovation and expansion. Just as we have sound scientific evidence of the nutritional efficacy of OFSP, we need to continue to build evidence of the utilization of sweetpotato in the context of climate change adaptation. To do this well, we need to look beyond the single crop to the broader systems and wider set of stakeholders that will make climate resilience possible. We believe that the landscape perspective provides an excellent approach and platform for sweetpotato to make its contribution”, said Dr. Heck.

Looking into the future, the vision of CReSP over the next 10 years is to strengthen food and nutrition security of at least 50 million people in regions vulnerable to droughts, floods, salinity, and extreme weather events in Africa, Asia and Latin America. CReSP is currently working to expand its work to Madagascar, Bangladesh and Haiti, in response to requests from partners in governments and international organizations.

As a hub for global action, GLF connects all actors, from the private sector to civil society to science and more, providing an ongoing conversation and platform to tackle the world’s most pressing issues driven by the global climate agenda.

“We congratulate GLF partners led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) for the growing momentum behind the landscapes approach and the establishment of the new center in Bonn, Germany. We look forward to the joint learning opportunities and scientific and policy interactions the GLF will afford to CReSP,” concludes Dr. Adiel Mbabu, CIP’s Regional Director for Africa.