Dar es Salaam. According to the January 2021 Journal of Development and Agriculture of Economics, sweet potatoes are among the most important food crops worldwide.
In Africa, the crop is used for food and income generation, although its marketing is limited by its short shelf life.
In Tanzania, sweet potatoes are an important food security root crop after cassava. It is grown by 1.08 million smallholder farmers (NBS, 2017). With its annual production of 4.2 million tonnes, Tanzania ranks fifth in the production of sweet potatoes worldwide and is also the leading producer in Africa, and accounts for 3.8 percent of the world’s sweet potato production (FAO, 2020). The crop has consistent reliable yields, due to the reason that it can be grown on marginal land, and thus suitable for areas with long dry seasons. The crop is useful disaster recovery crop when other crops fail.
Sweet potatoes are also important source of food in the homes of the rural and urban poor and important income source for households in Tanzania. Sweet potato lies within its adaptability to marginal conditions such as drought, low soil fertility, and thus make it ranked highly as food security crop when local staple crops such as maize and rice fail.
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) are rich in beta carotene, a vitamin A precursor for improving the nutrition of people especially children under five years of age. They have high content of carotenoids and pleasant sensory characteristics with colour.
The major sweet potatoes producing areas are the Lake Zone regions, especially Mwanza, Geita, Simiyu and Shinyanga. The key regions for OFSP value-addition include Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Arusha. Although production trend has been increasing, the average sweet potato yields have been stagnant over the past 10 years, and are far below potential yields due to low use of high yielding planting materials, the seasonal nature of production and insect pests and diseases. While inputs are important for producing any crop, sweet potatoes have been facing a lot of problems in input use and supply as most sweet potato farmers plant the locally-supplied vine cuttings.
SME digests spoke to the 37-year old managing director of Imara Initiatives, Shamsa Kileo. Imara Initiatives is an agriculture and agro processing company that started running in 2017. Shamsa says: “The company deals with venturing on Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes. We cultivate both vines (the sweet potatoes seed) and root tubers as the major agricultural products. We also process the two products into other products, that is from the leaves, we obtain flesh and dried vegetables and from the tubers several processed food products are made, such as bread, healthy juice and sugar free biscuits.”
Prior to starting her company, Ms Shamsa assessed the need for nutritional health improvement in Tanzania and then decided to start a business that will provide incentive for improvement of community health. She decided to start a business that will produce products with necessary nutritional values at affordable cost and one that will respond to UN Sustainable Development Goals on healthy, poverty, hunger and child mortality issues.
She then put her capital together, raised from her previous employment and family income savings and put Imara Initiatives together, four years running and without external support, Ms Shamsa points out that the profit has increased three times since they started their business.
Ms Shamsa says she choose to run a company focused on orange-fleshed sweet potatoes because they are very rich in vitamin A (beta-carotene) and vitamin C, these are two of the strongest antioxidant vitamins. While all sweet potatoes contain vitamin A, the orange variety has substantially more of it. Beta-carotene and vitamin C help regulate immune system and boost body’s natural protection against infections.
Ms Shamsa tookSMEs Digest through the vines business which is also part of Imara Initiatives and she says: “One acre needs an average of 12,000 vines for the root production, therefore, I get an average of 360,000 from customers purchase vines for one acre.
“Mostly, households purchase an average of 2,000 vines. Smallholder farmers purchase 12,000 vines, while non-government organisations (NGOs) purchase more than 100,000 vines at once”.
She also adds that from the tubers they make puree and flour and use them as their recipe to their company products such as bread, sugar free biscuits and healthy juice and they also sell the flour and puree to individuals for domestic usage such as juice and porridge making.
Ms Shamsa goes in-depth and educate SMEs Digest and she says; five kilograms of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes make one kilogramme of its flour and 5kg of puree which both give the return of Sh6,000, which is equal to selling 5kg of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Imara Initiatives harvest six to eight tonnes of OFSP from one acre.
Ms Shamsa also points out that most of the households in the urban areas are normally having small gardens at their home backyard, in this regard, households can be convinced to replace orange-fleshed sweet potatoes with white sweet potatoes to their gardens and farms so as to get both vegetables from leaves and food from root tubers for their family health improvement and income growth.
In fulfilling this, Imara Initiatives decided to start a pilot initiative in the community in Kigamboni and they succeeded to supply vines to women in Muongozo area in Somangila Ward, Kigamboni Municipality.
Imara’s product markets are mainly individuals for domestic and business purpose and NGOs. Their vines (seeds) have received a seed quality certification from Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), a government Institute under the ministry of Agriculture responsible for certification, quality control and promotion of quality of agricultural seed produced within Tanzania or imported to the country.
Ms Shamsa reveals that her inspiration comes from her long-term dreams of developing a business that focuses in agriculture and agro-processing industry. Her inspiration is also driven from the need to engage herself in a business that is beneficial for her family and community.
No business sails smoothly Shamsa has faced several challenges such as; market instability, lack of technology, lack of enough capital, lack of agricultural extension services and the limited/inadequate knowledge and awareness on the community on health benefits of consuming orange sweet potatoes over white sweet potatoes stands to be one of the key problems.
Despite all challenges in the next five years Ms Shamsa sees herself in an expanded company running a large-scale farming and processing health-based food crops. Through her business Ms Shamsa has managed to raise her income, increase in her knowledge especially understanding the production and processing ways of agricultural products with benefits on human health.
Ms Shamsa adds: “The agricultural products from our company have high nutritional contents and therefore we believe that our products will contribute to improvement of health status in our communities. Consumption of our products will lead to improvement of nutritional status of women, lactating mother and children under five years and reducing malnutrition levels in our communities”.
Ms Shamsa educates the aspiring OFSP farmers to ensure that; they to learn good agriculture practices for the best results, make sure they are complying with all legal requirement before starting business so as to be trusted by customers and most importantly know the target. If these key points are followed one is bound to have business with big profits.
Imara Initiatives pride themselves in being able to contribute in Improving their consumer’s health and improve income to small holder farmers who are orange sweet potatoes out growers.
Shamsa’s effort on Imara has brought her success and recognition and in 2020 she managed to scoop an entrepreneurship award from the Tanzania Women Chamber of Commerce.