Troubled by frequent droughts and high temperatures that have made growing corn more challenging, smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe have hit upon an opportunity in boosting food security and beating climate change with sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have been improved through conventional selecting breeding methods. The breeding process involves crossing different sweet potato varieties with selected traits such as health benefits, taste, size, pest- and disease-resistance and drought-tolerance.
The International Potato Centre (CIP), a global research organization, based in Peru, has succeeded in producing new sweet potato varieties. Using the accelerated breeding scheme, the CIP has halved the time it takes to produce new varieties, reducing the lengthy of the process from 8 or 10 years to just 5, according to Jan Low, a principal scientist at CIP.
Since 2009, CIP’s research has produced 62 orange-fleshed varieties that have been released by 12 African countries, Low said.
In Zimbabwe, sweet potatoes have become a flagship commodity especially among smallholder farmers. More than one million smallholder farmers in the country produce around 420,000 MT of sweet potatoes annually.