Small investment, Big results!

How village savings and loans groups, orange fleshed sweetpotato and the Triple-S innovation are empowering women in Northern Ghana.

Ernestine Gbang in her sweetpotato garden during the rainy season (May to September)                        Photo Credit: I. Suleman

‘For me, growing sweetpotato is much easier than other crops. I use few inputs and have little maintenance and I still get a good yield’ said Ernestine Gbang, a women’s group leader and successful sweetpotato farmer in Nyangor village, Lambuissie district of the Upper West Region, Ghana. This is a dry and hot area with an average annual rainfall of 1013 mm[1], most of which falls between May and September.

Ernestine started growing orange fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) in 2016 after she received 100 vines from a local NGO working with the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women project[2]. That season, she harvested a basin of about 50kgs of roots. She sold only a very small quantity from this produce because she wanted to use the roots for household consumption and storage for the next season.  Her family really liked OFSP because it was sweet and helped diversify their diet.

She stored her sweetpotato roots after the first harvest, together with the yams, in a mound in a shady part of her farm in December that year. When she removed the roots the following April, some of the roots were rotten, but the majority had sprouted. She planted the sprouted roots in a garden, in anticipation of the rainy season that starts in May or June. Fortunately for Ernestine the community borehole is close to her homestead making it easy to get the water needed to multiply vines for sufficient planting material. She multiplied enough material for 25 beds on her farm and to sell vine cuttings to four other women in her community.

‘I have benefited from continuous training from the field agents’, said Ernestine. ‘The year before last, they came to our group and trained us on how to use this new technique (Triple S)’ she continued. The Scaling Triple S project partners in Ghana, such as the MEDA GROW project and local NGOs have found working with women’s groups to be very effective in disseminating new agricultural technologies. The groups have between 10 – 30 women members and meet every week to save money in their Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). This saved money can then be used by members to take loans to buy agricultural inputs or to pay for school fees among other needs. VSLA group meetings also provide good opportunities to train members on agricultural innovations. The MEDA GROW project has organized over 15,000 women in the Upper West Region in such VSLA groups, empowering them with access to credit, inputs, and training on nutrition, hygiene, agriculture, processing and marketing of agricultural produce.

To market her vines, Ernestine decided to boil some OFSP roots and sell them door-to-door in the community as the majority of the community members were yet to taste and appreciate OFSP. This strategy worked because after tasting the boiled roots, her neighbours liked them and asked whether she could help them cultivate this crop. She educated them on the nutritious benefit of OFSP, especially it’s richness in Pro-Vitamin A, which helps fight malnutrition and boosts the immune system. When they asked where on their farms was suitable for cultivating sweetpotato, she explained that unlike yam which needs clay soil, sweetpotato needs sandy loamy soil which is prevalent in the area.

Triple S has helped Ernestine improve storage of roots using sand in a pit during the long dry season which helps to produce timely and quality planting material. She regularly monitors them to remove rotten ones and de-sprout those that sprout too early. She stopped de-sprouting them in March and in April 2018, when she removed them from storage, as the majority of the roots were clean and had sprouted. She produced very good vines from the sprouts and sold nine bundles of 100 vine cuttings to a farmer from neighbouring Burkina Faso for 10 cedi (about 2 USD) per bundle. That planting season, she increased her farming area to 30 beds and harvested an impressive 200 kgs of roots (estimated yield of about 15 tons per hectare).

Secure storage area in the Gbang homestead (right) and a happy Ernestine finds that her roots are still in good condition 3 months into storage Photo credit/ R Kihiu

Facilitated screening of farmer-to-farmer training videos on OFSP, carried out when the women meet for VSLA activities has been very beneficial. From these trainings, she learned how to use ridges instead of beds when planting her vines. She also learned how to cook a wide variety of nutritious meals from both leaves and roots, for instance, “mpotompoto” (a traditional one-pot dish made using sweetpotato or yam, video here) that her family finds very delicious! 

‘Next year I will ask my husband to support me in planting half an acre of sweetpotato’ Ernestine said. Her husband, Fao-obe Gbang, is fully supportive of his wife’s activities of supplementing household food consumption and income through OFSP. During the rainy season, he helps her in transplanting cuttings from beds to the ridges and monitoring the sweetpotato plot to ensure that everything is alright.

‘Come back in July this year and you will see a difference in this place’ Ernestine optimistically concluded. ‘It will be beautifully green and not dry as you see it now, and I will make you a nice dish of sweetpotato leaves’.

[1] https://www.climatedata.eu/climate.php?loc=ghzz0002&lang=en

[2] https://www.meda.org/about-grow

The blog is written and photos provided by Rosemary Kihiu, with contributions from Issahaq Suleman and Thomas van Mourik (CIP Ghana). 

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