Farmers’ perceptions of orange-fleshed sweetpotato: Do common beliefs about sweetpotato production and consumption really matter?
Efforts to combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries have focused on the promotion of growing and consuming orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), among other crops. Past studies have found increased intake and even incomes among households that have been reached with information about nutritional benefits of OFSP. Consequently, efforts to scale up the production and consumption of OFSP are on-going in several African countries where vitamin A deficiency is a major problem. However, to date, few studies have systematically examined farmers’ perceptions and attitudes towards some of the attributes of OFSP. This paper interrogates some of the beliefs about the production and consumption of sweetpotato in general, and OFSP, in particular. It uses data generated using multi-stage sampling technique and involving 732 households in the Lake zone of Tanzania. The households were stratified into project participants (the intervention group) and non-participants (the control group). Within each household, data were collected from a male or female adult member (usually spouses) through personal interviews. Overall, 455 project participants and 277 non-participants were interviewed. This study uses both descriptive and exploratory factor analysis to assess some common beliefs about sweetpotato production and consumption. Contrary to the common beliefs, the study finds that sweetpotato is an important food crop to producing households, and that the common negative beliefs about sweetpotato production and consumption are not widely held. This study, therefore, recommends the need to upscale and out-scale efforts to sensitize farmers about the nutritional benefits of growing and consuming OFSP to counter the common negative beliefs about sweetpotato. In particular, educating farmers on the health effects of inadequate intake of Vitamin A and the importance of OFSP as its source can greatly influence their perceptions about OFSP. Further, there is need to increase efforts at breeding aimed at supplying the multiple desirable table and postharvest attributes of orange-fleshed sweetpotato, in addition to focusing on agronomic traits. For sub-Saharan Africa, such attributes include taste, storability of the tubers, dry matter content, and sugar content.
Keywords: Sweetpotato, attributes, nutritional benefits, common beliefs, farmer perceptions, Tanzania
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