34-year-old Agrippina struggled to meet the basic needs of her three children. She cultivated the land which was her livelihood alone and battled drought to harvest meager yields. The struggle to feed her family took its toll — her children frequently suffered from diarrhea and malaria and she lacked sufficient funds to keep them in school.
But in 2012, Agrippina joined forces with other women and youth to form the Byabasambu Twimukye Association and cultivate a new future for their families. Equipped with tools and knowledge on disease and pest management, conserving vines and nourishing women, infants and young children, thanks to Samaritan’s Purse and HarvestPlus, they embarked on group gardening. They planted orange sweet potatoes as well as millet, rice and cassava.
By 2014 members had enough sweet potato vines to start large gardens and market the surplus roots. HarvestPlus, with support from USAID and Samaritan’s Purse trained them in value addition and product development, such as making orange sweet potato-wheat products like chapatis (flatbread) and doughnuts. Branded umbrellas and the vibrant orange color of their product excited consumers, particularly children, and the relatively simple recipes kept costs low.
With proceeds from market sales and orange sweet potato vines and roots, members established a microlending scheme — enabling women and youth to open small businesses, buy livestock, pay school fees and improve their diets. The increasing popularity of the orange spuds has allowed two members, Kuheebwa Joseline and Bonabana Grace, to triple the size of their farm to keep up.
All these efforts have increased the availability of this nutrient-rich orange sweet potato in Kamwenge and surrounding areas. HarvestPlus and Samaritan’s Purse continue to offer links to orange sweet potato vine multipliers and markets and increasingly, other nongovernmental and community-based organizations are partnering with them to offer this sweet solution for malnutrition to even more families.
“The Byabasambu association is well known in Kamwenge and we use them as an example to others; they have proved to the youth that with hard work life can be better,” says Dr. Kamanyire Alfred, the Kamwenge district production officer.
Much has changed for Agrippina since the association began. With the help of her family, she transports her largest potatoes from the village to the roadside market to supply markets in and beyond Kamwenge. The profits she now makes allow her to not only pay her children’s school fees, but also purchase additional land. What began as a quest to improve her own livelihood is now a movement improving the health of other families, one orange potato at a time.