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Revolutionising Farming with Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes: A Profitable Solution

Revolutionising Farming with Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes
Mr Udeala at his farm harvesting potato vines

Revolutionising Farming with Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes: A Profitable Solution

Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) farming is a common agricultural business in some parts of Nigeria, but it has been neglected by the government, according to Esonu Udeala, who grows OFSP in Abuja.

Despite Nigeria being one of the highest producers of potatoes in the world, it has the highest population of malnourished children. This is one of the factors that led Esonu to farm OFSP, as it is a solution to the national malnutrition burden. OFSP is rich in over 13 micronutrients, including Vitamin A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Potassium, Phosphorous, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Iron, etc. It is also very good in improving reproductive health both in men and women.

OFSP is a variety of sweet potato that is native to Peru, South America. It was introduced to Nigeria by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in 2005, and it was handed over to the National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike, which carried out research to confirm its viability and benefits.

The orange colour of the flesh is an indication of high content of beta-carotene, which is converted by the body into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is very critical to the health, immunity and well-being of human beings. The eyes, brain, and several organs of the body need a sufficient supply of this vitamin to function well.

Facing high wheat prices, Nigerian bakers turn to potato puree

Nigerian bakers are turning to potato puree as a substitute for wheat due to the high cost of wheat in the country. This has led to an increase in demand for potatoes, particularly orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, which are easier and cheaper to grow than other crops.

Farmers can achieve a return on investment of more than 149% if they invest in orange-fleshed sweet potato production, which has a short cycle of 90 to 120 days. The crop is also drought-resistant and easily cultivated.

However, the potato value chain is not given the necessary support by the government, and the level of malnutrition and Vitamin A deficiency is high in the country as a result.

The orange-fleshed sweet potato value chain is a good area to engage a lot of people, especially young graduates who should come in with energy and innovation.

The value chain has a lot of areas that need to be filled for it to be developed, and each area of the value chain is profitable.

The different areas of the OFSP value chain include land preparation service provision, vine multiplication and vine supply, tuber production, food and health shops, food processing and industrial production, aggregation and bulk-buying and supplies, storage/warehouse service and export marketing. Very little has been done in any of the above areas.

Researchers can come up with the best way of producing starch, ethanol, biogas, and animal feed from orange-fleshed sweet potato to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Participation in training programmes can open people’s eyes to both the industrial and economic potentials of OFSP. The crop is very important in Nigeria in battling food and nutrition security.

However, as a tuber crop, it requires sufficient rainfall or water supply, especially within the first eight weeks after planting, to do well. That is why it is mostly grown during the rainy season while it is off-season during dry weather.

To ensure that farm output is realised and utilised, it is important to secure the farm from herders who move around and eat up anything green, especially during the dry season.

Governments at all levels can use the OFSP value chain to achieve so much in such a short time and at minimal cost. However, the potato value chain is not given the necessary support by the government.

The crop is not like rice, maize, or even cassava, which both the federal government and various development partners give all their support. Whereas the above-mentioned crops are basically carbohydrates, the sweet potato has over 13 micro-nutrients and is also rich in carbohydrates.

Nigeria is said to be one of the highest producers of potatoes in the world, yet there is no anchor programme for potato farmers. AGRA supports sweet potatoes in Ghana but not in Nigeria.

Various World Bank-supported programmes in Nigeria have nothing to do with sweet potatoes in Nigeria.

The orange-fleshed sweet potato value chain provides great opportunities to food processors, as there are over 42 dishes and recipes and products that are derived from this potato. Merchant/aggregators can fill the tuber supply gap, particularly during the off-season period.

The crop is required in every part of Nigeria every time, yet it is not available at all times as the country is still mainly dependent on rain-fed agriculture.

The different areas of the OFSP value chain include land preparation service provision, vine multiplication and vine supply, tuber production, food and health shops, food processing and industrial production, aggregation and bulk-buying and supplies, storage/warehouse service and export marketing.

Very little has been done in any of the above areas. Youth can come in and fill the vine supply gap. In fact, access to quality vines is very critical for a productive farming cycle.

Governments and well-meaning individuals can empower young men and women (graduates) with plots of land, irrigation facilities and primary vines.

In each state, such people can be selected and empowered to produce the vines to be used by farmers in their states. This will reduce the problem of long travels of vines which reduce their viability.

In conclusion, the orange-fleshed sweet potato value chain has great potential to contribute to food system resilience and address SDG 1, 2.

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