The School of Agriculture of the University of Venda (UNIVEN) jointly with the Agricultural Research Council – Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute (ARC-VOPI) hosted a Sweet Potato Farmers Field Day to educate farmers from surrounding communities about the new orange-fleshed types of sweet potato. This event took place at C1 Lecture Hall and Experimental Farm of the School of Agriculture on Thursday, 17 October 2019.
The objectives of this Farmers field day were to exchange information on the production and nutritional benefits of the new orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties as well as, to demonstrate their field performance.
Ms Whelma Mphela, a Research Technician from ARC-VOPI explained that the different new varieties that were undergoing a field test at UNIVEN are adapted to the local environmental conditions but must be validated over several cropping seasons and locations in other provinces. “We had 24 new experimental varieties which we planted in different locations including in Ga-Sekhukhune and in Pretoria. Eight (08) of them have shown to can survive under a wide range of environmental conditions.” She explained that some of them can tolerate drought, hence can reduce production costs for farmers. Ms Mphela also emphasized that sweet potato is a summer crop and could have been harvested much earlier before the onset of the winter season in June/July. The growth period is between 3 and 5 months on average depending on the specific variety. These experimental new varieties have not yet been released for commercial production for them to be assigned commercial names as well as enable seed distribution.
ARC has two nurseries in Limpopo, one in Nzhelele and another one in Tzaneen which provide farmers with clean seed.
Professor of J.B.O. Ogola (Agronomy, Department of Plant Production) explained to the farmers that the vine of the sweet potato plant can also be consumed as a vegetable (morogo) and can be used also as fodder for livestock. “You can also use the top part as seed or to plough it back into the soil or use as a highly nutritious vegetable.” He said this orange-fleshed type of sweet potato is more nutritious than the normal sweet potato. “It is good for children particularly under the age of five (5) years. It is rich in micronutrients required by the body for good development in early childhood. It can help to fight the malnutrition that was experienced by Africa in the past.” said Prof Ogola.
Ms Dipolelo Moseki, a fourth year student in the Department of Plant Production who maintained the crop at the Experimental Farm explained that some of the challenges she encountered included shortage of water for irrigation and late season insect pests due to delayed harvesting. “Sweet potatoes are normally planted for about four (4) months and if you delay the harvesting, the roots might be attacked by insects pests”, said Dipolelo
Ms Mashudu Makhado who is a Technician in the Department of Horticultural Sciences said water is a global issue and therefore the new drought tolerant varieties are good for our farmers and the country at large.
Mr Thomas Ramuthaga who represented the farmers said as farmers, they appreciated the good work that UNIVEN and ARC are doing for the local farmers.
He said most people who are involved in Agriculture are women, even from his observations of the UNIVEN Agriculture students, most of whom are females. He thanked all the School of Agriculture staff members for sharing their knowledge with community members free of charge. Mr Ramuthanga told farmers to try to pick up what the School of Agriculture is feeding them with because this will benefit them in their future. He remarked that it was gratifying to see fellow Africans helping each other in realizing an African dream.
Department of Communications & Marketing
University of Venda
Tel: (015) 962 8525
Date: 29 October 2019