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Group cultivating sweet potatoes to fight malnutrition

In the midst of a severe drought with more than 92,000 people on the brink of starvation, a group of farmers in Makere village, Galole constituency are cultivating highly nutritious Orange Fleshed Sweet potatoes to fight malnutrition.

According to the International Potato Center (CIP), one small boiled orange-fleshed sweet potato can provide the daily vitamin A requirement for a young child, reducing the risk of infection, stunting, or blindness.

Mwanaesha Haluwa, a member of a 20 members strong Uhuru na Kazi farmers group says she has fetched more money from her two-acre farm through the cultivation of sweet potatoes compared to other crops.

The group use surface irrigation with water from Tana Irrigation Scheme canals directed to the farms by furrows

The World Food Programme (WFP) supplied 2000 seedlings from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) to the group.

“The cultivation of sweat potatoes is very good; WFP has sponsored us, they brought seedlings, although it was little, we put it in the nursery, and the seeds increased. Most members have two to three acres of land,’’ said Mwanaesha Haluwa at her farm.

She added, “The first round we harvested the proceeds helped us and our families. We have been able to pay school fees and buy food and livestock. We are not hungry because of sweat potatoes even though there is a famine”.

Mwanaesha encouraged other small-scale farmers to embrace sweet potato farming to end overreliance on relief food rations.

The group’s Chairman Salim Mgawa received training on sweet potato farming from WFP.

“If you cultivate one acre, a farmer can harvest between 20 to 25 bags. We sell a kilogramme for Sh50. I have cultivated one acre less the expenses incurred I got a profit of sh45,000,’’ said the Chairman.

He added that the variety takes 75 days to mature and the cost is relative as they only use organic manures.

The farmers appeal to the County Government to improve farm access roads and to help them market their produce outside the County.

Alex Kubende Agricultural Officer notes that the sweet potatoes are biofortified and they have beta carotene, a rich source of Vitamin A

“Sweet potatoes are one of the indigenous foods that can grow well without any stress in Tana River. This farm is diseases free, and does not use any pesticide or fertilizer, so a low-level farmer can cultivate it,’’ elucidated Kubende.

He added, “This is a project that we can multiply so that we can fight hunger and malnutrition by enabling families to be food sufficient. Only Makere and Bura were successful out of the four areas that we piloted”.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Drought Early Warning for September has classified Tana River to be in the Alarm-Worsening phase.

“The proportion of sampled children less than five years of age at risk of malnutrition increased to 28.5 percent compared to the previous month’s 28.01 percent.

This is attributed to the reduction in milk production and consumption at household levels, lower purchasing power, and scarcity of vegetables,” reads the NDMA bulletin.

By Sadik Hassan

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