Until 2017, Hellen Jeruiyot, a small-scale farmer from Elgeyo Marakwet County used to grow maize for food and income but the poor market price of the cereal made her change to orange fleshed sweet potato farming which is currently earning her Sh8,000 a month thanks to value addition.
“With maize, I used to work so hard but after harvesting, I could not get enough sell and pay school fees, buy food and take care of the family,” said Jeruiyot.
As a result of these challenges, she decided to diversify her crops by embracing Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP), a new variety that was introduced at Soin area where she farms by Kenyan government’s health and agricultural ministry in conjunction with a non-governmental organization.
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According to experts, OFSP is in vitamin A that boosts maternal and child health hence the increase in demand by most consumers in the country.
“When we first introduced this sweet potato variety, it was hard for farmers to accept it since they were used to the older varieties. However, it has boosted their income and general family nutrition,” said Boniface Mukosi, a food security expert.
In children, especially the young ones, vitamin A strengthens the immune system hence cushioning them from adverse effects of diseases like diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia that are leading causes of death among children below five years old in Kenya. It also protects them from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), which is the leading cause of child blindness in developing countries.
For pregnant mothers, Vitamin A provides key nutrients that help with proper development of the unborn child and contributes to positive pregnancy outcomes.
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Initially, Jeruiyot feared that the crop would be a labour intensive, requiring intense land preparation, continuous pest control, and a lot of weeding and other agricultural practises. But after some training, she discovered that it is an easy crop to grow and does not need a lot of work like maize.
“I have experienced the benefits of this vitamin A rich sweet potato and would therefore like others to adopt it so as to improve the health and economic status of households.” Adding that she is ready to share with colleagues the knowledge and experience she has gained over the time.
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According to Hellen, her children like the new sweet potato since it is sweet and soft, hence easy to eat at any time.
She says the sweet potato can be used to prepare a variety of meals including porridge, chapati (unleavened flat bread) and mandazi (resembles a doughnut) made from its flour.
The potatoes can also be eaten together with vegetables and protein rich grains such as beans and green peas so as to provide a balanced diet to families.
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Through value addition, she sells nutritious chapatis made of a mixture of wheat and OFSP flour to a nearby local primary school. From this business venture, she makes an additional Ksh.8, 000 income monthly.
“The demand for the new sweet potato is increasing in communities as more and more people become aware of its advantages and realise that it has more value than the previously grown sweet potatoes,” said Boniface.
In addition, her initial harvest in 2017, Jeruiyot remembers that she made a profit of Sh12,000, which was a major boost to the family’s income.
Photo: One of Hellen Jeruiyot’s harvested sweet potato. Photo courtesy.