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Farmers in Ghana find sweet spot in sweet potato


Julius Dorsese is harvesting sweet potatoes from his 2 acre farm in Sogakope, a town in Ghana’s Volta Region.

Dorsese has been cultivating the crop for the last four years. He is part of a program in the region that is promoting consumption of a variety known as the orange-fleshed sweet potato.

The farmer says he is happy with his harvest. The tuber takes only three months to mature and in a good year Dorsese makes about 4,500 dollars.

“Ninety days exactly its mature to harvest and when it is time to harvest we are going to sell the vine and the root, it’s a big difference,” said Dorsese.

Sweet potatoes require fewer inputs and less labour compared to other food crops like maize. They are also hardy and more tolerant to harsh conditions like dry spells and poor soils according to the International Potato Centre, an agricultural research organization.

Sweet potatoes can also stay in the soil long after maturity, making the time of harvest less critical.

“The Eastern and the Southern Africans are using sweet potato more than West Africans and so that is why we need more promotional activities and the crop appear not to be so much aware — or many people are not aware of the potential of the crop and we need to do more public awareness programs because it has been with us for me, since childhood and I met other people and they also said since childhood, it has been with us for so long a time but we didn’t know the potential of the crop as a healthy crop because of the vitamin A content until recently,” said Dr. Ernest Baafi, a research scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana.

Farmers and entrepreneurs have been investing in the crop since the program was introduced by the government and its partners.

They have also found ways to sell value added products made from sweet potatoes.

The Vekon bakery makes sweet potato bread as one of its products. Sweet potato flour can also go into snacks like scones and cakes.

Veronica Konu is the proprietor of Vekon Bakery which operates two outlets.

“When I started using sweet potatoes my income increased because people who like potatoes started buying my bread. My profit margin has increased because of sweet potatoes,” said Konu.

The bakery employs about 200 people. After processing sweet potato dough the mixture is placed in tins and baked using a traditional oven.

The bread is later sold to retailers in town and travellers on the main road nearby.

Apart from being rich in carbohydrates, sweet potatoes also contain vitamins, zinc and iron, making them highly nutritious.

Researchers in Ghana have set a target to reach about 500,000 households with sweet potatoes by 2020.

Doctor Ted Carey is the country manager at the International Potato Center in Ghana.

“What we will like to do is to make the Orange-fleshed sweet potato widely available so that it can be something that people know about, something that people know as nutritious, something that people value, then it becomes part of people diet. And the way we think we can do that is, we have to take a multiple probe approach but what we want to do is make it profitable so that the market demands it, so that people are interested, farmers will be interested in growing it, and then it will also be present for people to eat in their houses and to contribute to combating mal-nutrition,” said Carey.

With changing weather patterns, farmers are being encouraged to take up alternative crops like sweet potatoes that are not only resilient, productive and nutritious but also offer better returns.