The dynamics of smallholder farmers’ acquisition and distribution of sweetpotato vines in Tanzania
This study (PDF) in the Food Security journal offers insights into smallholder farmer’s practices regarding acquisition and distribution of sweetpotato planting material in Tanzania. Findings reveal that most farmers rely almost exclusively on informal seed systems. The majority (>56%) produce their own planting material, especially farmers who have more knowledge about and experience with sweetpotato production and focus on the production as livelihood strategy. Strong social ties facilitate the majority of local planting material and favor provisions of locally available planting material without payment. So, the study has revealed an informal, socially embedded system capable of reproducing and distributing sweetpotato planting material at very low cost. A feasible way of enhancing farmers’ access to improved sweetpotato materials would be through subsidized targeted distribution of improved material to local farmers, who are known to be vine providers and knowledgeable about sweetpotato cultivation. This could strengthen accesses to improved germplasm through existing local channels, while limiting external investment. However, over time the quality of the material could degrade due to virus pressure. The infusion approach, whereby distribution of material is subsidized, may be an option if the objective is to improve food and nutrition security. Low value of sweetpotato vines, level of market access and capacity are other factors to consider. If market access and demand for vines is limited, subsidized infusion of improved varieties into the local system via local community organizations and locally recognized sweetpotato knowledge holders and vine providers may be the most feasible approach. When sweetpotato production is a secondary activity, a commercially based system for acquisition/provision of sweetpotato material may have better prospects. So, the authors support the call for making use of or building on informal seed systems when seeking to strengthen adoption of improved sweet potato varieties. When deciding how to proceed, a thorough understanding of the dynamics of the existing system is needed.