Preparing seed for sweetpotato farmers

by James Kamuye Kataru

About 12 years ago, information provided by the International Potato Center CIP) stated that the sweet potato was the third most important crop in seven East and Central African countries. This means that communities in this region relied on the crop as a source of food and income generation. An improvement in technology has grown Africa’s interest in the sweetpotato with new varieties like the orange fleshed finding their way to farms, markets and dinner tables.

Seed production has always posed a challenge in local communities. I remember, while growing up in the 1980’s, villagers used to rely on superstitions and beliefs while looking for seed/vines to plant. A few of these beliefs included;

  1. You couldn’t just pick vines from any person or home and plant without caution. Certain women and families were known to provide the best vines that would grow the largest and sweetest tubers.
  2. Vines planted by men were believed to produce excellent tubers.
  3. Left-handed members of the community were believed to wield lots of luck if they planted the vines. They were a highly sought after commodity during “potato planting season” which started in August at the beginning of the short rains. Any sweetpotato field they planted was believed to yield bigger and plenty tubers!
  4. After planting the sweetpotato field, planting porcupine spikes on the beds was believed to cause the crop to thrive and yield bigger tubers. 

We can treat the above as mere superstition and beliefs that relied on chance but not scientifically proven concepts bringing us to the current ways of producing sweet potato vines using the triple S method. This process is detailed in two SAWBO animated videos that teach how to use sweetpotato roots stored in sand to produce timely planting material for the next growing season.

What is the triple S method?

The triple S method which stands for storage in sand and sprouting consists of storing sweetpotato roots in dry sand after harvest. The tubers are then planted in seedbeds six to eight weeks before the rains and watered to produce enough vines to plant on a larger farm at the onset of rains. For farmers, this method is effective and reliable in producing vines for planting.

In the SAWBO video library, there are two SAWBO videos on the triple S technology. These are;

  1. Sweetpotato roots for timely planting material: The triple S method on how to prepare and store roots. This animation explains the procedure of storing the sweetpotato roots at harvest.
  2. Sweetpotato roots for timely planting material: How to prepare and plant a root bed and crop using roots stored through triple S method. The video explains how to use sweetpotato roots you stored in sand at harvest to propagate vines for planting in new fields.

Using the “Triple S” methods, farmers can;

  1. Store sweetpotatoes for a longer period of time.
  2. Prepare material for planting sweetpotato in very dry areas.
  3. Use the sweetpotato stored using the triple S method to plant out a seed bed.
  4. Multiply the cuttings needed to plant new fields way before the rains.
  5. Plant an entire crop at the beginning of the rainy season.
  6. Increase yield and provide early harvest of nutritious food.

After harvesting

In another SAWBO animated video on sweetpotato we will discuss using the double S method to store harvested sweetpotato. In this method, sweetpotatoes are stored in dry cool sand to prevent the spread of diseases or pest for many months without rotting.

The Double S Method

Most sweetpotato farmers have taken to planting large fields using better practices, which has resulted in. higher yields. This causes flooding the local market with sweetpotatoes forcing farmers to lower prices to avoid post-harvest loses and maximize on sales. This has caused a need for farmers to find ways of storing their harvest for longer periods and guarantee better prices and a steady supply. The SAWBO video on the double S method (storage in sand) highlights a better way of storing harvested sweetpotato for a longer time.

According to the SAWBO animation video, “Double S: Harvesting and storing your sweet potato crop” sweetpotato farmers should;

  1. Cure the potatoes before harvesting to ensure longer shelf life. Curing helps the sweetpotato develop a thick protective skin.
  2. Harvest fields completely, since you have a way to store and preserve for a long period.
  3. Store sweetpotatoes in sand to prevent the spread of pests and disease for many months. 
  4. Enjoy a steady supply of potatoes for the family when using this method.
  5. Have flexibility to decide when to release the harvest to fetch the highest market price.

The double S and triple S methods are beneficial to  sweetpotato farmers who wish to maintain quality seed/vines for planting and preserve the harvest and only release when market prices are favorable. To increase yields, I encourage readers to watch the three videos and learn the procedures, apply the knowledge, and share widely within their communities especially where sweetpotatoes are widely planted.

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