Sweet potato is a vital food security crop in sub-Saharan Africa, and has recently started to become a commercial crop. It is produced mainly in East Africa where yields are high, and the growing seasons are short. However, the production of the crop is greatly constrained by Sweet Potato Virus Disease (SPVD), which causes high loss of yield (of up to 98%) for sweet potato farmers in the region. A team of experts supported by BioInnovate Africa, have developed a bio-based innovation model that has addressed the challenge caused by SPVD. The model has integrated digital solution to improve production of high-quality, virus-free sweet potato vines. The web-based mobile application enables real-time mapping of sweet potato farmers, vine multipliers and sellers, and disease monitoring. With the model, sweet potato farmers can access, and also start vine multiplication and distribution of the high-quality virus-free sweet potato vines as a business, thereby increasing their incomes.
Professor Samuel Kyamanywa leads the team of expert who developed the model, which has so far enabled sales of more than three million vines to farmers in East Africa. One of his team members, Dr Settumba Mukasa, narrates how the model works, and how it enhances his commercial tissue culture enterprise for sweet potatoes.
What motivated you to start your business?
The production of sweet potatoes in Uganda and the larger East Africa was mostly affected by SPVD in the years of 2000 to 2005. During this period, there was a gap in the region for quality seeds of vegetatively propagated crops such as sweet potatoes. As biotechnology experts in plant tissue culture, plant virology and molecular virus indexing techniques, we have developed a bio-innovation model for sustainable multiplication of virus-free planting materials (vines) and made them available to farmers in the region through our Viazi Vitamu mobile application. We also offer trainings to sweet potato farmers, vine multipliers, and sellers in the region.
Why should farmers buy your products?
We produce high-quality, certified, virus-free sweet potato vines that have 100% yield restoration potential, in comparison to farmer saved seed that can registered over 58% yield losses. We have also mapped the sweet potato varieties we promote to clear market niches including fresh root tuber markets for white, cream and orange fleshed varieties. Some varieties are ideal for processing into puree and flour, while others are good for animal fodder production.
What opportunities do you see for the future of your business?
There is need to embrace vertical integration along the full sweet potato value chain. This means going beyond producing and selling the high-quality, certified, virus-free sweet potato vines. Famers have reported that certified seed lead to bumper harvests, but they run into marketing challenges. When farmers do not find a ready and reliable market, this creates a negative feedback to sweet potato seed (vines) sales the following seasons. Specifically, we would like to focus on production of sweet potato root tubers for niche export and local markets, as well as make silage for tubers that get damaged during harvesting and/or not fitting into the grade sizes and excessive vines in form of foliage at harvest.
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