WANT SOME FRENCH FRIES?
Why not try orange fleshed sweetpotato fries from Malawi!
By Brian Andrew Kachisa, Training & Promotional Officer, The International Potato Centre (CIP), Lilongwe, Malawi
The experiences of a sweetpotato chip maker at Liwonde Township, Malawi
When people talk of buying, preparing, or eating chips, the first thing that comes to mind is potatoes. However, this may not be true for 28 year old, Liwonde resident, Tiyesi Twaibu who hails from Machinga District in Malawi.
Tanzania, as Tiyesi is fondly known by fellow market vendors, struck gold in April 2014 when he started to produce and sell sweetpotato chips. After toiling for years, working for other potato vendors preparing and selling french fries, he decided to start his own small enterprise. Sensing that potatoes were expensive he decided to use sweetpotato for his chips. Tiyesi secured a small loan of K2, 500.00 to buy cooking oil and fuel wood. He borrowed a firewood burner and a frying pan. And convinced a sweetpotato dealer to give him a bag of sweetpotato worth K5, 000.00 as a loan in order to start the business. He was able to get a gross income of K9000.00 from the first proceeds and about K1, 500.00 as profit.
From white to orange fleshed sweetpotato
The first bulk of sweetpotatoes that he sold were white fleshed which most of the customers described as not being sweet, less crunchy and had a flat taste when exposed to cold conditions after frying. Over time this led to a drop in the number of customers who visited his business stall. Tiyesi sensed he needed to try a new approach to impress his customers and so decided to try kamchiput – a local orange fleshed sweetpotato variety to make his chips. His customers loved it! The chips were sweet, crunchy and very tasty. He was able to bring back the lost customers and generate enough income to support his family. The customers also loved that the sweetpotato chips were much more affordable compared to other potato chips. As well being a healthy option providing customers with Vitamin A.
Plate 1: Everybody’s dish? a cross section of sweetpotato consumers waiting to be served (Pictures by Brian Kachisa (Training and Promotional Officer) and Arthur Chibwana (M & E Specialist) CIP, Lilongwe, Malawi
End of the road
According to Tiyesi, sweetpotato production especially of OFSP is not very common around Liwonde Township and so vendors are forced to travel far to source them, especially during the off-season.
This resonates with what was gathered from one on one interview with some of the sweetpotato dealers around the trading centre. Orange fleshed sweetpotatoes are often sourced from Chinseu Area in Zomba District which can lead to high transportation costs and which poses a great risk to the survival of small scale businesses like Tiyesi’s that thrive on very lean gross margins. In order to cut transportation costs, sweetpotato traders around Liwonde organize themselves so that one individual was sent on a regular basis to purchase all the sweetpotatoes on behalf of the entire group. There were a few mistakes made with this new arrangement which made things difficult for Tiyesi and for a while he had to return to work at his former employer’s stall.
8 months later Tiyesi happened to meet CIP staff who were in the field doing research to assess consumers’ opinions and preferences on sweetpotato chips. The CIP staff had no idea that Tiyesi was one of the pioneers for selling sweetpotato chips in the area. The moment that he started preparing the chips customers came forward impressed by the OFSP chips he was preparing. CIP staff worked with Tiyesi providing him with a half full 50kg bag of kamchiputu to help him start the business again. On this first day he managed to make a profit of about K5000.00. The following day he was able to continue with the business on his own by purchasing sweetpotato roots directly.
Douglas Pyott (left in Black T-shirt and Emily Mueller in orange T-Shirt) appreciating the turn up of Malawian fries customers at Tiyesi’s food stall (Picture by Arthur Chibwana, M&E Specialist, CIP, Malawi Office