At the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), scientists are working on sweet potato varieties with high yields potential and iron meant for pregnant mothers and children.
Countries from Southern and East African such as Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania have obtained a grant of $15 million from the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation to support their respective breeding programmes for a period of three years under a project called ‘Sweet Gains”.
Jean Ndirigwe, one of the researchers said that bio-fortified sweet potato varieties will follow Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes with Vitamin A: “We take different sweet potato varieties and check their DNA so that we breed new varieties with iron vitamin. The varieties will also be able to resist sweet potato diseases, climate change and provide high yields.”
Researchers say only 15 per cent of sweet potato farmers’ plant varieties have high yield potential.
Farmers are using planting materials that are infected with diseases and pests. Poor varieties means the yields are very low and sometimes less than 50 per cent of the potential yields.
At least five new sweet potato varieties that were recently introduced are expected to increase yields from 11 tonnes per hectare to at least 15 tonnes in farmers’ fields and bio-fortified sweet potato varieties will be an addition, researchers say.
Ndirigwe said they are exchanging varieties grown in Rwanda and other countries such as Peru to study DNA of sweet potatoes varieties in order to come up with strong varieties.