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Taboo orange potatoes improve lives in Kamwenge

 

In African folklore, issues about impotence are very delicate and fall in the shrinking pool of taboos.

The myths around them invoke fear and anything linked to impotence is carefully avoided. So, inevitably, a group of women farmers in Kahunge sub-county in Kamwenge district were harshly rebuked by peers in 2014 when they started a campaign promoting sweet orange potatoes, which rightly or wrongly were perceived to cause impotence.

Grace Kahwa, one of the 25 member Byabasambu Twimukye Women’s Association, says they were rebuked because eating orange potatoes is widely believed to kill men’s sexual prowess or manhood in the western district.

“It was not easy in the beginning; very few people were willing to listen to us. We were always heckled by fellow women who accused us of trying to kill their husbands’ manhood,” Kahwa recalls.

However, according to Kahwa, such misplaced accusations simply spurred her on. Two years later, Kahwa and her colleagues are happy their campaign weathered the storm and they are reaping big.

“With time people understood and appreciated the nutritional values in the potatoes. We also proved to them that in our own families wives continued giving birth despite [their husbands] eating them,” Kahwa, a mother of two, explains.

In the last two years, more than 10,000 households in the wider Kamwenge district have embraced orange potatoes. With her shrewd business mind, Kahwa has switched from running a mobile money stall in Kamwenge town to growing orange potatoes.

Indeed, her income has increased tremendously in the last six months since she ditched the mobile money business from Shs 200,000 to more than Shs 800,000 per month.

From her five-acre garden, Kahwa grows orange sweet potatoes from which she sells vines (enkola) and makes byproducts such as pancakes, mandazis, chapatis and porridge flour. She also grows high iron beans and maize, which supplement her income from potatoes.

With increased incomes, Kahwa is able to support her husband, a policeman, pay school fees for their children, buy her own livestock and several plots of land.

Through her group, Kahwa has a ready market for vines and other crop products. In fact, the demand is so high. When The Observer visited she confessed she was overwhelmed with orders.

To match the growing demand, Kahwa recently teamed up with some group members and acquired a bigger chunk of land from the district. They opened up the land and planted more orange potatoes, from which they hope to reap more vines and potatoes in the near future.

Alfred Kamanyire, the Kamwenge district production officer, confirmed that many farmers like Kahwa have had a turnaround in their fortunes and lives.

HOW SHE STARTED

In 2014, Kahwa heard about the campaign run by HarvestPlus, a non-government organization, promoting the growth of biofortified crops. At first, she was reluctant but a friend encouraged her to attend the training sessions and try out the crops. She obliged and has not had any regrets.

After training, she got a seed loan through Samaritan Purse, the local implementing partner organisation, which distributes free clean planting materials to smallholder farmers.

Kahwa’s first seed loan included a suck of orange vines and a kilogramme of beans. By correctly applying tips from experts and weather permitting, Kahwa has successfully multiplied her stock over the seasons.

Last week Kahwa told a team of visiting officials from USAID, HarvestPlus, Samaritan Purse and the media that she hopes to become one of the leading seed multipliers in the region.

Campaigners for biofortified orange potatoes and high iron beans want to empower as many as 20 million smallholder households in the country by 2020. Biofortified crops are rich in vitamin A and other essential minerals.

According to the 2011 demographic health survey, more than 35 percent of children under the age of five lack vitamin A. Health experts say biofortied foods can reduce such nutrition deficiencies in mothers and children.

In Kamwenge and the neighbouring districts of Ibanda and Isingiro, HarvestPlus and its partner organisations encourage successful smallholder farmers like Kahwa to train others.

mugalu@observer.ug

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