With only 15 per cent of sweet potato farmers able to invest their own money in buying new varieties of sweet potato seeds, agricultural researchers are set to establish demonstration plots that will stimulate farmers' demand.
Rwanda Agricultural Board and International Potato Centre (CIP) have been working together to develop cleaner sweet potato varieties but Julius Okello, the Agricultural Economist at the center, says very few farmers are willing to pay for the planting materials.
At least five new sweet potato varieties that were recently introduced are expected to increase yields from 11 tonnes per hectare to at least 15 tonnes in farmers' fields while they can produce over 20 tonnes when they are still RAB's research stations.
"We will set the demonstration plots that the farmers will actually see and experience the performance of new varieties. They will observe the difference between the varieties they normally plant and the newly developed ones," he said.
The disease and pest resistant varieties include Cecilia, Esther, New Kawogo, Otada and Kyabafurika which have to be given local names by farmers.
"We are going to carry out a study that is going to investigate whether farmers have demand for clean disease and pest free planting materials (vines) of sweet potatoes," he said.
The assessment will be carried out in seven districts of Rulindo, Gakenke, Musanze, Kayonza, Muhanga, Ngororero, and Rubavu to understand why few farmers are embracing the new varieties with potential yields.
He explained that sweet potato is a major crop in Rwanda for almost every household but the productivity is currently very low.
"The reason for that is that farmers are using planting materials that are infected with diseases and pests. So the yields are very low and sometimes much lower less that 50 per cent of the potential yields," he said.
"The study will help us to understand how much farmers will be willing to pay for the planting materials such as Orange Sweet Potato varieties that will increase production at the household level. When it increases yields, it will have enough food, sell the surplus and get money that is spent on other households needs," he said.
After the study, Okello said the information gathered will help Rwanda Agriculture Board to know the price to put on the varieties developed by the researchers.
"It will also help farmers to value sweet potato. Farmers can then know how they can sell sweet potato roots after knowing how much they pay for quality vines," he said.
Damien Shumbusha, Head of Sweet Potato Program at Rwanda Agricultural Board said the varieties were imported and locally bred for adaptation.
These varieties are concentrated in beta-carotene, a component in a crop that is converted into vitamin A for the body.
He said the varieties are harvested after four to five months.
During the recent the 11th triennial Conference of the African Potato Association (APA) themed: "Leveraging the contribution of potato and sweet potato for sustainable nutritious food systems", Geraldine Mukeshimana the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources said that sweet potato covers 5.2 per cent of the total cultivated area.
Statistics of the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda indicate that the per capita consumption is 145 kg for sweet potato per year.
"In caloric terms, sweet potatoes contribute to 21.6 per cent of the total national requirements," she noted.
The average production of sweet potato in Rwanda was 1.186 million tonnes in 2018 according to figures.