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Getting sweetpotato technologies into the hands of Mozambique’s vulnerable households A USAID funded project in rural Mozambique

In Mozambique’s Mucuba district - Zambezia province, a group of women farmers break into celebratory songs as we arrive in their village. From the local language they are singing in, I pick up a mention of Vitamin A. A local translator informs us, they are rejoicing over benefits derived from the biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP)—rich in Vitamin A —introduced to them over three years ago.

Some of the beneficiaries under the USAID funded VISTA project in Mujeba administrative post, Mucuba district, Zambezia province. Photo: V. Atakos (CIP-SSA)

In October, 2014, the International Potato Center (CIP) launched a robust project—Viable Sweetpotato Technologies for Africa (VISTA)—that aimed to get OFSP directly into the hands of 65,100 Mozambican households with another 260,000 households indirectly benefitting from improved OFSP varieties and technologies. The project was designed to expand the production and utilization of nutritious OFSP in 11 districts of Nampula Province and 5 districts of Zambézia Province. With funding from USAID’s “Feed the Future” initiative, the project was rolled out in collaboration with government partners including the Mozambican Agrarian Research Institute, the District Services of Economics Activities (SDAE), and the District Services of Health and Women and Social Action, as well as by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs), and education and research institutions.

Investments in research and development over the last few years have generated improved technologies for sweetpotato which have in turn greatly improved nutrition, income and food security among vulnerable households in Africa and Asia.

Decentralised vine multiplier Suleimani Alfredo of Nakavala administrative post in Meconta district of Nampula province showcases climate smart OFSP variety Irene on his farm. Photo: V.Atakos (CIP-SSA)

For women in Nampula and Zambezia provinces, having access to improved sweetpotato technologies meant growing and consuming OFSP varieties such as the popular climate smart Irene whose narrow leaves can be eaten as a vegetable 60 days after planting, while roots are ready to harvest after 100 days. Malira José, one of the women beneficiaries meeting us in Mucuba explains,

“previously, we only had the local sweetpotato varieties. We did not know about OFSP or how to grow and incorporate it in our diets. We did not know that juice can be made to feed our children.”

Between 2014-2019, the VISTA project working closely with local government health extension officers in Nampula and Zambezia provinces, has reached about 74,000 families with children under five years of age. They received trainings on sweetpotato agronomy and nutrition. Furthermore, pregnant and lactating women received continuous training on the importance of postnatal and antenatal health care, breastfeeding and eating a balanced diet. Subsequently, 94,400 children under five (25,700 were under two years of age) benefitted following nutrition trainings.

Lucia Claudina, another beneficiary confirms that OFSP, now locally grown by many women, is one of the foods given to children during complementary feeding from six to 59 months. She adds that available markets for the root need to be strengthened to ensure the surplus can be sold ensuring a source of income for the women.

Maria Louisa, a government nurse at the Mucuba Central Hospital, Mucuba district, Zambezia province with some of her patients. Photo: V. Atakos (CIP-SSA).

At the Mucuba Central Hospital, Zambezia province, Maria Louisa, a government nurse, working with the VISTA team , who counsels pregnant women and those with children under five years during their hospital visits says children like OFSP because it is sweet and the color attractive.

“Mothers say that when they eat sweet potato it reduces hunger, they have more energy, as opposed to other foods, for example bread”. Maria further notes she experienced no resistance during trainings as the OFSP is cheap in the market. It is available and also cultivated, so that even with five meticais (USD 0.1) in the pocket, anyone can buy it in the market. It is a food that fights hunger. That is why it was not difficult for the population to receive this message”, she tells us.

Access to quality planting material

Since improved access and productivity is dependent, among other factors, on access to quality vines, the VISTA project recruited vine multipliers to serve local farmers growing OFSP. Commonly referred as decentralised vine multipliers (DVMs), such farmers are trained in vine multiplication. They focus on producing disease free vines of select farmer preferred varieties.

We meet 56-year-old DVM Jose Alberto who serves the villages of Alto Molocue district, Zambezia province. A father to four, he produces both sweetpotato planting material as well as the roots for nearby markets.

Decentralised vine multiplier Jose Alberto (Alto Molocue district, Zambezia province) next to his net tunnel for production of disease-free planting material. Photo: V. Atakos (CIP-SSA).

Agronomists recommend that sprouts or vine cuttings are used to grow new sweetpotato plants with a distance of 25‐30 cm between plants and 60‐100 cm between ridges. For Jose, adopting a dimension of 30 cm and 80 - 90 cm, on his two farms worked better for him resulting in an increase in overall production. To ensure, he produces disease free planting material both for his own use and for sale, Jose set up a net tunnel next to his house. CIP research has shown net tunnels are effective in guarding against insect vectors such as aphids and whiteflies, which spread viruses. This ensured availability of clean planting material for higher yield. Such tunnels also contribute towards moisture retention, reducing the amount of water needed for irrigation. Jose says,

“Prior to training from CIP, I would leave either too little or too much space in between the crops. I lost in terms of production”, he says.

Deoclesiano Maria, a local agriculture extension officer in Mucuba district has been working with CIP under the VISTA project since 2016 to support farmers such as Jose. Such support included offering trainings in vine production, conservation and multiplication. Despite gains brought by VISTA to the community, he notes more varieties of sweetpotatoes, adaptable to the changing climatic conditions and resistant to pests and diseases common in the region should continue to be produced.

Deoclesiano Maria, extension officer in Mucuba district . Photo: V. Atakos (CIP-SSA).

Although, climate-resilient varieties such as Irene, now constitute about one third of the sweetpotatoes grown in Mozambique, frequent extreme weather events such as cyclone Idai continue to put pressure on breeders to avail more varieties. CIP scientists are raising the bar for breeding a next generation of root, tuber and banana crops that are more climate-resilient, nutritious and desirable to local consumers.

Some of the beneficiaries of the VISTA project together with the local administrative officers in Mugema administrative post, Alto Molocue district. Standing at the front row, second right is DVM Jose Alberto (orange shirt). Photo: V.Atakos (CIP-SSA).

CIP THANKS ALL DONORS AND ORGANIZATIONS WHICH GLOBALLY SUPPORT ITS WORK THROUGH THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CGIAR TRUST FUND.

All photos are available on Flickr.

Created By
Vivian Nereah
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Photos: V. Atakos (CIP-SSA)

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