Sharon Shayanewako and Edgar Vhera
THE GOVERNMENT’S push to move citizens from overreliance on wheat bread and embrace other nutritional options has gone a gear up with 2, 3 million virus free sweet potato vines being distributed to farmers countrywide.
Chief director Agriculture and Rural Advisory Services, Professor Obert Jiri said Government had made significant strides in the push to diversify food consumption options from bread or wheat to sweet potato to enhance food security.
“It is important that we have alternatives from wheat bread to sweet potato. There are good varieties available for the farmers and we are distributing improved virus-screened varieties from our Horticulture Research Station (HRS).
“So far 2, 3 million sweet potato virus-free vines have been dispensed to our farmers. The rule of thumb is that they have to be virus free in order to improve the yields,” said Prof Jiri.
This is a sure case of the operationalisation of the Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan (HRGP), which seeks to stimulate a transformative rural horticulture sub-sector under the Presidential Horticulture Scheme covering all 1, 8 million rural households.
The sweet potato intervention is being bolstered by the Presidential borehole drilling exercise currently underway in the whole country. Drilling of boreholes in each village will make it possible for nutrition community gardens to be established and this will go a long way in allowing farmers to embark on a year-round sweet potato production cycle.
The second round Crop and Livestock Assessment (CLA) report for 2022 showed that sweet potato yields had decreased from 422 613 tonnes in the 2020/2021 season to about 207 529 tonnes for the 2021/2022 season, a 51 percent decline.
As the country requires 318 080 tonnes of sweet potato annually, the projected 207 529 tonnes for 2021/22 season translates into a deficit of 110 551 tonnes.
For the 2021/22 season, Mashonaland East province planted the largest area of 9 676ha followed by Masvingo at 7 060ha. Masvingo province committed the largest area of 13 319ha to sweet potato followed by Mashonaland East at 10 251ha in the 2020/21 season.
On productivity, Mashonaland West province was forecast to have the highest yield of 20,53 tonnes per hectare followed by Manicaland at 13,7 tonnes per hectare for the 2021/22 season. For the 2020/21 season, Matabelaland South had the largest yield 11, 04 tonnes per hectare with Manicaland coming second at 10, 84 tonnes per hectare.
Under the HRGP, the Presidential Horticulture Rural Development Scheme targets 1, 8 million households to receive elite, virus-free sweet potato vines to improve yields, quality and spur value addition and beneficiation to transform the rural economy.
The HRGP has set a conservative yield increase figure of 8 tonnes per hectare. Planting a quarter of an acre (0, 1ha) with virus-free sweet potatoes by each household will realise an expected yield of 800kg, which if sold at a price of US$200 per tonne, will produce US$160 as income.
Elaborating on the yield potential of virus-free sweet potato vines, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development research scientist, Mrs Sibusisiwe Pinkson Dube said sweet potato was a climate-resistant crop, which was easy to grow, requires less inputs, intensity and that can be produced on a small piece of land.
“Sweet potatoes are generally an easy crop to farm due to their limited input requirement, capital intensity and applicability on small tracts of land. In addition, the crop yields very high with yields of around 30 tonnes per hectare possible.
“Its production features prominently in smallholder cropping systems because of its versatility as well as being climate-resistant,” said Mrs Dube.
She further added that sweet potatoes are easy to store and could be a famine reserve crop to counteract increased effects of climate change.
“Tissue culture has the potential of improving livelihoods of subsistence farmers that largely rely on vegetatively propagated crops. Through shows, trainings and field days around the country, farmers are being educated on the need to use tissue cultured planting materials that are free of pests and diseases especially viruses.
“The country has also seen the active use of biotechnology by local universities, private companies and research institutes in improving productivity in sweet potatoes,” added Mrs Dube.
“The Research Department has developed rapid multiplication techniques as a measure to increase the multiplication ratio of sweet potato vines. This technique mainly targets smallholder farmers as a strategy to allow availability of sufficient quality planting material both at household and ward level. This is made possible by the employment of district vine multipliers (DVM) in ward-based nutrition gardens to grow and disseminate the planting materials,” explained Mrs Dube.