By Mutangana Emmanuel
The Rwanda Agriculture & Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), in collaboration with the International Potato Center (CIP), organized a consultative meeting for sweetpotato partners. The meeting took place at Pak Inn Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda on October 5th, 2023. The objective of this meeting was to establish a road map for implementing timely interventions along the sweetpotato value chain. The aim is to ensure consistent food availability, enhance household nutrition, and promote agricultural transformation.
Speaking at the event, Dr. Telesphore Ndabamenye, the Director General of the Rwanda Agriculture Board, emphasized the importance of addressing the value chain of sweet potatoes in order to alleviate the food shortage gap and to bring down the raising prices observed in the market.
He noted that most Rwandans do not value sweet potatoes as priority crop, and all stakeholders must work together to combat this.
“Maybe for the sake of our partners in Rwanda, we have what are known as priority crops. I wonder why sweet potato isn’t included among them. Sometimes we have Irish potato, but I hope I never mentioned it because now it’s in high demand. Currently, people are only talking about Irish potatoes due to the increase in prices. So, I believe sweet potato is what we are here for.” Dr. Ndabamenye said.
“People are asking why sweet potato is not among the priority crops. At that time, I did not have an answer. What I tried to convey is that sweet potato is a crop that supports the priority crops. Can we, as scientists, traders, and processors, justify in this meeting that we can convince the policymakers to include sweet potato among the priority crops?” He said
He also highlighted that Sweet potato is very important in Rwandan economy and food security.
“We are targeting enough food, but we cannot wake up in the morning and expect the food to be readily available. I have been informing people that agriculture is a process. If you lose seed multiplication in one year, for example in 2016, the negative effects and consequences will manifest three years later. Perhaps today we are experiencing the consequences of past events, like the increasing prices of Irish potatoes,” he said.
He identified the path for GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) to enhance root production of sweet potatoes. This involved implementing practices such as planting, crop weeding, using quality seeds, rotation, intercropping, and staggered planting, with the aim of increasing sweet potato production.
Dr. Ndabamenye said“We need to consider how to reshape the roadmap in order to ensure consistent supply from seed to food, and to prevent any shortages along the way. Through partnerships, we can significantly increase sweet potato volumes and production within three to five years, as it is an easily multiplied crop. This will help us address the current crisis with Irish potatoes in Rwanda,”
Dr. Jean NDIRIGWE, the potato senior scientist at RAB, highlighted that Sweet potato is among the traditional food together with banana, Irish potato and Cassava but when you compare with the rice, beans, or maize for the large scale farmers the sweet potato is not as the same of other crops.
“By saying sweet potato in terms of the seed, the farmers are using sweet potato as traditional seed at 99% and this shows that the seed is very key because most of the farmers are just using their own seed for planting but the improved seed is very few which justifies that the system have to be worked on.” He explained.
“We have the expectations to increase sweet potato availability in Rwanda but also we want our stake holders to have at least get all the partners to know sweet potato agenda, we have been actors on sweet potato, the agro business, all the processing people so that we can create more market opportunities “, he said.
He revealed that the seed multipliers contribute approximately 25% of the seeds from their own harvest, as they obtain these seeds from the marshland and distribute them to various districts. Even NGOs acquire their seeds from these seed multipliers. However, when examining the seed supply, this 25% contribution can only support the cultivation of approximately 1200 hectares, which is quite low compared to the actual demand.
“What we do as RAB in terms of research and also to contribute to sweet potato development. Normally we target to have the preferred varieties and also we work at the quality seeds. We have already some policies that favor our sweet potato research and development. We also have the demand which is increasing and we are expecting to increase more with this urban or population increase”, he said.
According to Dr. Jan W. Low, principal scientist and also 2016 world food Laureate who is working with CIP (International Potato Center) the range of Diversified products with sweet potatoes is enormous.
She said that wide range of baked products can be made with 30_60% like existing and emerging enterprises which use sweet potato citing the example of Sina Gerard, Duhange, Carla, Winaz, Pride farm, etc….
“We been working together with Rwanda Agriculture Board, RAB, to create a sweat potato revolution in Rwanda. it’s your most security crop but yields can be much higher if we improve the quality of the seed system, local defense is the best offence against malnutrition, really if we organize sustainable seed systems by vine conservation and supply, sweet potato is the helping food for everyone”, she said.
She concluded saying that this can be done by quality vines produced and disseminated to the farmers, Good agriculture practices, farmers training and field administration. High production of OFSP for home consumption, marketing and processing.
“I think it’s really a win-win for malnutrition, a win-win for the farmers, and it’s also a win-win for the development of the country. Let’s make the sweet potato revolution a reality for health and wealth”, she said.
Farmers speak out
According to Uwemeyimana Jeanne d’Arc, a seed multiplier and farmer of orange sweet potatoes, the private organizations are primarily the ones who purchase the multiplied seeds.
“We provide seeds for multiplication to anyone in need, including those we have given to by RAB or NGOs. These individuals can then distribute the seeds to selected families, such as those in Category One of Ubudehe. The number of villagers purchasing orange seeds is minimal as they prefer to receive them for free. Additionally, the cost of seeds is high, making it unaffordable for everyone, with 1kg of seeds priced at 250Frw.”