Sweet Potato For A Sweet Future

Sweet Potato For A Sweet Future

At the recently concluded Parab 2022 our sweet potato chips (the purple coloured Bhu Krishna variety) were a huge hit. It flew right off the shelf!*

What is interesting is while the Pottangi block (where we work) in Koraput is well known for its ginger and vegetable cultivation, it is the sweet potatoes that are extremely dominant both in terms of area under cultivation and income of small and marginal farmers.

The farmers in the Adivasi communities like to grow crops that fit with their culture and farming schedule and the sweet potato is perfect for this. The Oxfam India-SDMC project works in two blocks in Koraput on exactly the same premise—doubling farmers income by improving cropping systems and fostering linkages with various institutions in line with their cultivation pattern.

Why Sweet Potato

During the baseline survey of the project, sweet potato was among the seven crops that were chosen by the farmers. A climate-resilient crop with high returns, the post harvest operation and management of sweet potatoes is easy.

But there were a few limitations that the farmers faced. According to them, they did not have good quality stems for propagation, weren’t aware of the best farming practices to increased productivity and the market for sweet potatoes was not organised.

Through the project, we set out to draw strategies to solve these issues. What helped was that there was already a growing interest among agricultural financial institutions and technical institutions. NABARD and Prastutee (a Koraput-based NGO) had signed an MOU to work for the promotion of sweet potatoes in five gram panchayats of Pottangi block. Of the five, two gram panchayats—Pukali and Deopottangi—fall under our project areas. Of the 1000 women under the NABARD-Prastutee project, Oxfam India-SDMC Trust project works with 400 women farmers.

The technical support by ICAR-Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (ICAR-CTCRI) and the High Altitude Research Station (HARS) proved extremely useful as well. They helped in selecting and finalising suitable varieties, raising nursery, providing inputs such as bio-manure and vermicompost bags, training for better agronomic practices and value addition, and improved marketing.

From Farm to Fork

The Kissan sweet potato variety is the most popular among the sweet potato farmers but majority of the time, these were sold in distress sales. The ICAR-CTCRI proposed introducing medicinal Bhu Krishna and Bhu Sona varieties. Bhu Krishna contains anthocyanin antioxidants which have anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties; Bhu Sona contains beta carotene. Because of their medicinal properties, the two varieties sell for almost double the price of the Kissan variety. So it was decided to grow these two new varieties along with Kissan.

Subsequently, ICAR-CTCRI provided the Bhu Krishna and Bhu Sona stems and vines. This helped reach a large number of farmers in one go. In fact, 50 farmers from 13 villages grew the Bhu Krishna variety on one large plot of land!

In anticipation that it would be difficult to sell the bio-fortified sweet potatoes in the local market—they have lower sweetness and are new to the market—as a pilot the produce was sent to Mati Farms in Cuttack and they appreciated our produce. Mati Farms specialises among other things in bio-fortified sweet potatoes and works with farmer clusters across the state.

Meanwhile, ICAR-CTCRI provided members with food processing training. And the result was the sweet potato chips sold during Parab. We kept the produce to gauge the reaction of the consumers. And it was very positive.

The farmers are thrilled with their produce but there is some more work that needs to be done. More trainings need to be held, nurseries need to be decentralised and their raising has to be timed better, products need to be regularly evaluated and machinery needs to be installed with financial support from NABARD.

The next big step is the formation and registration of the Farmer Producer Organisation in Pottangi. Then the FPO will be able to handle all the activities from growing to transportation, and from value addition to marketing of the sweet potatoes. We are confident that our small and marginal farmers will reap huge benefits in future.

*PARAB is a state level cultural festival held in Odisha’s Koraput district and it was celebrating its 25th year. During the 3 day festival, our women farmers from Koraput had put up a stall of sweet potato chips, dried vegetables, variety of native seeds from our seed bank, and a model of our 1/4 acre-farming method.

About the project: The Oxfam India-Sita Devi Malhotra Charitable (SDMC) Trust project, with support from NGOs WORD and Prastutee, was started in the Semiliguda and Pottangi blocks of Koraput in February 2021. The project aimed at strengthening 2000 economically vulnerable, and small and marginal women farmers from the tribal communities in 40 villages in 2 blocks in Koraput, through women-led vegetable farming & marketing.

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