Tips on sweet potato production

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THE 2022/2023 summer cropping season beckons and farmers are optimistic. 

Another profitable agricultural venture to consider this season is sweet potato farming.  

Sweet potatoes are a delicacy preferred for their nutritional value and relatively low production cost.  

Several value-added products can be made from sweet potatoes.

Agri-business consultant Clive Masarakufa said sweet potato production is fairly manageable for any farmer.

“Sweet potatoes are basically propagated from cuttings and you can be fortunate to find cuttings or vines for free in some cases,” he said. 

“However, most people are now aware of the commercial value of sweet potatoes, so finding them free can be difficult. 

“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.”

Farmers, said Masarakufa, should ensure they have prepared the land to grow sweet potatoes beforehand.

The piece of land will need to be prepared beforehand. 

Sweet potato farming, he said, is not labour-intensive.

“You probably might need a considerable number of hands at the onset and around harvest time,” he said. 

“The good thing is you will not necessarily need skilled expertise and that translates to low labour costs if any.”

In terms of financial resources, Masarakufa said, not much is needed if the grower already has land and farming implements. 

“Other costs will come from the chemicals and fertilisers needed to enhance productivity,” he said.

“You will need things like Compound D fertiliser, ammonium nitrate fertiliser, lambda and zablaxyl.

“For one hectare, you would require six bags of compound D, two bags of ammonium nitrate, 250 millilitres of lambda and 250 grammes of zablaxyl. 

“Lambda is used at planting whereas zablaxyl is sprayed as many as three times during one season – you can evenly space the times of the sprayings.”

The market for sweet potates is vast and inexhaustible, said Masarakufa. 

“The demand is always there for sweet potatoes and given how relatively cheap sweet potatoes are, people love them to be a part of at least one of their daily meals,” he said.

“Thus, in any part of the country, there is always an active market.”

There are two broad classes of sweet potatoes, namely the white flesh (or purple skin) and the desert flesh (or orange skin). 

“The former has a higher starch content whereas the latter has high sugar content and 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,” Masarakufa said.

“Sweet potato farming is best suited to summer-like conditions and 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, said Masarakufa.

“You might want to choose to ridge when farming them – the rule of thumb is that the ridges should sufficiently be raised,” he said.

“Alternatively, you can use mounts, that is, you pile up the soil into mounts.

“This is all meant to provide the sweet potatoes with an adequate and well-loosened growth medium.

“One of the simplest ways you can put one hectare under sweet potatoes is by ridging it uniformly. 

“This would mean that it measures 100 metres by 100 metres and by spacing your ridges by one metre, that would translate to 100 ridges for that one hectare.” 

Come harvest time, a farmer can get an average of 25 bucket-fulls (referring to a 20-litre bucket) of sweet potatoes per ridge, said Masarakufa. 

“In total, that would be 2 500 buckets of sweet potatoes,” he said. 

“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 realise gross revenue of US$15 000 per hectare. 

“That can even be compounded by selling vines to other farmers.”

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