According to the manual Produced by CIP-Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Office (SSA), Nairobi, Sweet potato has the potential to produce remarkably high yields if given the right growing conditions and can also yield more reliably under unfavourable conditions than many other crops, which is why it is so important for household food security in many places in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
This topic therefore deals with the environmental factors that can influence sweet potato production which inlcudes: – soil and nutrients, water, light and temperature with their management, and with production practices that can help to reliably produce good sweet potato crops.
Development workers should be aware that the farmer’s knowledge concerning the best management practices for sweet potato may vary between farmers, genders and regions. In regions where sweet potato is important, many farmers are likely to be highly skilled growers, managing the crop well within their farms and with available resources. This topic will help the reader (trainer) understand the principles and practices that can contribute to good sweet potato production.
Planning sweet potato activities for the farm operation
Timing of operations is critical to farm success meanwhile having sufficient planting materials when needed, usually at the onset of the rains, is always one of the biggest challenges to sweet potato production in SSA. There are also other challenges related to the management of the sweet potato crop with the other crops on the farm and activities in the household. This is particularly true for resource-poor households dependent on rainfed production, working with declining soil fertility, and facing increasing climatic uncertainty.
It is therefore very important for the promoter of orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) to understand the agricultural calendar of the community they work with, and how it can fit into that calendar. Development workers also need to know the degree of commercialisation of sweet potato and understand gender roles and responsibilities along the sweet potato value chain. Male and female ownership/ management of sweet potato fields in most parts of SSA can be grouped into three categories:
- Sweet potato is traditionally a female crop; few or no men grow it
- Sweet potato is traditionally a male crop; few or no women grow it
- Sweet potato is grown by both men and women on individually owned plots family plots or leased plots
As discussed earlier, gender roles in sweet potato production are dynamic, varying across regions of a country and changing over time. In many parts of SSA, sweet potato is largely grown by women for subsistence purposes, with men becoming more involved in production as market demand increases. However, the reverse situation also occurs. In parts of northern Nigeria, where men are the major sweet potato producers, women are increasingly growing the crop as it becomes more commercialized. Developing a cropping calendar with farmers, which explores who does each of the sweet potato activities as well as the other activities which are competing for women’s labour at those points in time can help explain the situation.
While all the agricultural activities on the calendar will require some advanced planning, this is particularly so when sweet potato planting materials need to be multiplied in order for there to be sufficient materials at the intended planting time.