Fourteen years ago, Joweria Ssekiyanja started distributing orange sweet potato vines to her neighbours in Nyimba sub-county, Luweero district.
Then, Ssekiyanja, contracted by HarvestPlus as one of the change agents in the area, sold the potato vines at a give-away price of Shs 1,000 per sack. For her, it was more of voluntary work in her role as a local council leader than a drive to make money.
Ssekiyanja, whose husband passed on last year, now owns a vine shed and a five-acre garden, from which she sells vines to hundreds of individual smallholder farmers and organisations throughout the country.
She says she earns at least Shs 4 million per month from the trade. With support from HarvestPlus, a non-government organization, Ssekiyanja formed Bagya Basaaga Potato Growers and Processers Association, which has more than 500 smallholder farmers.
Biofortification processes involve breeding of food crops that are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Biofortified crops take up those nutrients as they grow and once harvested and eaten, people benefit from the additional vitamins and minerals in them.
Ssekiyanja’s breakthrough is attributed to the successful campaign of introducing biofortified food crops such as maize, beans and the orange sweet potatoes to smallholder farmers in a bid to boost nutrition and food security.
In 2014, Ssekiyanja invested Shs 120,000 in buying three sacks of parent vines from a Kawanda-based private laboratory. She erected a nursery (vine shed) near Nyimba sub-county headquarters.
Ssekiyanja’s vine shed is covered by an insect-proof transparent net, which protects the vines from white flies that carry crop diseases. After two weeks, Ssekiyanja transfers the vines to the main garden where stems can be cut once her customers come to collect them.
The 48-year-old mother of nine has sold vines to non-government organisations such as Plan International, Save the Children, World Vision, Karitas and Foodnet, among others.
These organisations distribute vines to poor farmers as part of their biofortication campaign, which is aimed at fighting hunger, malnutrition and boosting household incomes. To ensure steady supply of vines, Ssekiyanja bought a small engine-powered water pump to irrigate her garden during the dry seasons.
On April 4, Ssekiyanja was in the limelight as a group of UK parliamentarians visited Bagya Basaaga Potato Growers and Processors association in Nyimbwa. The UK legislators included Lord Cameron of Dillington, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Patrick Grady (MP), Kerry McCarthy (MP), Prof Guy Poulter and Caspar Van Vark.
They are part of HarvestPlus’ funders in the campaign to sensitize farmers about the importance of growing and eating biofortified staple food crops.
After a guided tour of Ssekiyanja’s vine shed and garden, Cameron, who spoke on behalf of the group, said they were impressed not only by her progress but also the group’s innovations to help many other farmers get the vines.