Dinavance Kyomuhendo, 43, from the Nalweyo sub-county in the Kakumiro district, Uganda, is a single parent to five children and a guardian to 10 orphans. Over the last seven years, Dinavance has managed to bring her family out of homelessness by establishing herself as the leading agri-entrepreneur of the Kakumiro district.
In 2013, Dinavance and her children were chased away by her husband from their home. While seeking work and shelter, she approached Caritas Hoima Development Organization (HOCADEO), a Catholic diocese social-economic development organization in her area. The priest informed Dinavance that HOCADEO was partnering with HarvestPlus to promote biofortified orange sweet potatoes (OSP) in the region. This was done under the USAID Meals for Nutrition Biofortified Solutions in Uganda (MENU) project which supported training women and youth groups around the country in value addition of orange sweet potatoes and iron beans.
"I was then asked to join a farmer group if I wanted to benefit from the project. Upon joining the farmer group, I received training in nutrition and agronomy. It was exciting to learn that the OSP is rich in vitamin A and healthy for consumption. After training, each one of us received OSP vines for planting that promised a payback in the next season," she recalled from the initial days of training with HOCADEO and HarvestPlus.
Post-training, Dina took a small loan from the women scheme under HOCADEO and rented 2 acres of land for two seasons. She then started putting her training into practice and began planting vines.
"I went ahead and planted the vines on the leased farmland," said Dinavance.
In the first planting season, she noticed that the biofortified variants of OSP had produce vitamin A rich yield of potatoes. The new variant of sweet potatoes also had big roots, which generated extra income for Dinavance as she was able to sell them at the local trading center.
Apart from the monetary benefit, Dina frequently champions the nutritional benefit of the biofortified OSP variants promoted by HOCADEO and HarvestPlus in Kakumiro. She also earned free airtime on Radio Maria to promote orange sweet potato tubers and vines.
"Ever since my family has started consuming these potatoes as a staple, I have noticed that my children were no longer falling sick as often. Also, their skin had improved, and they were not looking pale anymore," said Dina while explaining the benefits of consuming the new biofortified variants of OSP.
Starting a vine business
With the success of OSP in the first planting season, Dinavance undertook vine planting as a serious business. In the successive planting season, she expanded her garden of OSP and started to sell vines to her neighbors. Over the years, Dina has evolved into a strong champion of biofortified OSP. She strongly believes in the nutritional benefits of biofortified food and has encouraged many of her neighbors to expand and plant their gardens with vines. Witnessing how passionately Dina works for their cause, HOCADEO issued her a tender to produce vines for their subsequent farmer beneficiaries.
"I started using the land to multiply the vines and kept supplying vines to farmers within my sub-county. After seeing my efforts, HOCADEO and HarvestPlus trained me as a vine multiplier and supported me in acquiring a screen net and water pump to produce clean vines. I have been doing OSP vine multiplication for more than five years now," Dinavance said proudly.
After making initial sales for OSP vines, Dina paid back the loan and even bought her own farmland. She kept on buying more land to expand her OSP gardens and has so far managed a total of 8 acres of farmland. With the continuous support and training of HarvestPlus and HOCADEO, Dina has also started making snacks such as cakes out of OSP, which are then sold in the local town.
Diversifying income streams
Through her commitment to the OSP production and marketing activities, she has set up a regular stream of sustainable income that supports her business and family. Dina has also expanded into raising pigs, rabbit, and poultry, and has several fish ponds.
"I use orange sweet potato vines to feed the pigs and rabbits. I also use OSP flour to feed the fish. When feeding my poultry, I mix chicken feed with OSP flour. The added nutrition in the OSP flour helps my poultry mature very fast. I have now emerged as one of the key suppliers of chickens in the whole district," she explained.
Similarly, engagement in OSP production and marketing activities has drastically improved her life situation. Through the proceeds from these activities, she has now constructed a six-room house for her family.
"Earlier, I had to ask the priests to help me feed my children and provide shelter. Now, I can provide my kids with good food, a roof over their heads, and quality education from my income. One of my children is pursuing a diploma in fashion. Another one is pursuing his bachelor's in medicine, and the rest are still in secondary school," said Dinavance.
Empowering other farmers
After realizing all these benefits from OSP, Dinavance started organizing other farmers. In 2019, she organized 20 farmers in an association (13 women and seven men) to train them in agronomy and other value addition activities of OSP. The group has been formally registered with the Kakumiro district local government as the Kakumiro Orange Sweet Potato Growers Association (KOSGA).
"Through our association, we pooled the proceeds, paid for labor for maintenance of gardens, and shared interest amongst association members," explained Dinavance.
Due to the organized effort of KOSGA, the group sold 3200 bags of OSP vines at UGX 14000 (USD 3.7) per bag and was able to generate a net annual income of about UGX 44,800,000 (USD 12,100) in 2020. Additionally, the association also sold 120 bags of OSP tubers to Uganda National Roads Authority workers and other food vendors at local trading centers. A pack of tubers was sold at UGX 60000 (USD 16), fetching the association a total of UGX 7,200,000 (USD 1,945) in sales.
After witnessing Dinavance's untiring efforts and entrepreneurial mindset, Kakumiro's local government has contracted her to train farmers in nutrition, agronomy, and value addition of orange sweet potatoes.
"My biggest challenge today is that I have so much to accomplish but not enough time. I am indebted to HOCADEO, HarvestPlus, and USAID for the support and trust they have rendered to me. Their effort in promoting the biofortified OSP not only offers many farmers with new means of livelihood but also delivers a nutritious alternative of sweet potatoes to the people in my community," said Dinavance with gratitude.