Yet another profitable agricultural venture is sweet potato (‘mbambaira’ in Shona, ‘imbambayila‘ in Ndebele) farming. Sweet potatoes are a delicacy that is preferred for their nutritional value and relatively low cost. Sweet potatoes are a low cost and healthier substitute for bread. Furthermore, several value-added products can be made from sweet potatoes. One interesting example is making noodles from sweet potatoes. In fact, I challenge you to explore because I am sure there is more that can be made from them. In this article, I look at how you can start farming sweet potatoes.

Approaches

Sweet potatoes are basically propagated from cuttings. You can be fortunate to find cuttings or vines for free in some cases. However, most people are now aware of the commercial value of sweet potatoes so finding them free can be a hassle. You will most likely have to pay or rather come across people selling sweet potato vines. The mere fact that you have to start with the vines gives an idea of how low-cost and less tasking propagating them can be.

Key Requirements

You need a piece of land, primarily. The piece of land will need to be prepared beforehand. You will need some farm implements and labour for that. Sweet potato vines will be a must. Irrigation will be necessary especially if it is not the rainy season. Fertilizers, insecticides, and the like will be needed too.

Human Capital

Sweet potato farming is not that labour-intensive. You probably might need a considerable number of hands at the onset and around harvest time. The good thing is you will not necessarily need skilled expertise and that translates to low labour costs if any.

Financial Capital

Not much is needed really especially if you already have the land and farming implements. If that is not the case then having to buy or rent land coupled with buying or renting farm implements will surge your capital needs. Other costs will come from the chemicals and fertilizers needed to enhance productivity. You will need things like compound D fertilizer, ammonium nitrate fertilizer, Lambda, and Zablaxyl.

For 1 hectare you would require 6 bags of compound D, 2 bags of ammonium nitrate, 250 ml of Lambda, and 250 grams of Zablaxyl. Lambda is used at planting whereas Zablaxyl is sprayed as many as 3 times during one season – you can evenly space the times of the sprayings. If you have to purchase the vines, prices vary from person to person but the price can be US$4 or so per bag full of sweet potato vines.

Market

The market is vast and inexhaustible. In fact, the demand is always there for sweet potatoes. Given how relatively cheap sweet potatoes are, people love them to be a part of at least one of their daily meals. Thus in any part of the country, there is always an active market.

Important Things To Consider

There are two broad classes of sweet potatoes namely the white flesh (or purple skin) ones and the desert flesh (or orange skin) ones. The former has a higher starch content whereas the latter has high sugar content. When it comes to commercial production, the most common varieties are orange (or copper variation) skin, white (or cream variation) skin, and purple (or red variation) skin.

Sweet potato farming is best suited to summer-like conditions – cold conditions are a big NO! Thus it would be wise to wait for frosty chilly conditions to pass before commencing production. Sandy loam soil is the best soil profile for sweet potatoes to grow optimally. You might want to choose to ridge when farming them – the rule of thumb is that the ridges should sufficiently be raised. Alternatively, you can use mounts i.e. you pile up the soil into mounts. This is all meant to provide the sweet potatoes with an adequate and well-loosened growth medium.

The Prospects

The prospects are quite good and once you know them you become eager to explore. In painting the prospects picture for you I will use 1 hectare of sweet potatoes as a working assumption.

One of the simplest ways you can put 1 hectare under sweet potatoes is by ridging it uniformly. So in essence, let us suppose the piece of land is a perfect square. This would mean that it measures 100 metres by 100 metres. By spacing your ridges by 1 metre, that would translate to 100 ridges for that 1 hectare. Come harvest time, you can get an average of 25 bucket fulls (referring to a 20-litre bucket) of sweet potatoes per ridge. In total that would be 2500 buckets of sweet potatoes. The producer price of sweet potatoes per bucket varies but you can work with an average of US$4 per bucket. That means you will realize gross revenue of US$10000 per hectare. That can even be compounded by selling vines to other farmers.

I am sure this provides you with enough information and inspiration to venture into sweet potato farming. There are huge prospects and some of you might have to take it up a notch. I say so because many people farm sweet potatoes just for household subsistence.