Dickson Mhoro looks out over the two acres of farmland where he is producing orange-fleshed sweet potato vines for sale with his friend and business partner Loiruki Mollel. (Photo credit: Adam Bemma)
Sitting in traffic is tedious. But 53-year-old businessman Loiruki Mollel uses this time to listen to the radio, tuning in to Kilimo chetu (Our farming) on Radio Maria 89.1 FM as he manoeuvres his way through traffic in Dar es Salaam.
Mr. Mollel was intrigued when he read about the health benefits of the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). Looking back, he said: “Not long afterward, I was listening to [Radio Maria] and heard a program with farmers talking about the lack of OFSP vines around Dar. I decided to get into agribusiness and produce OFSP myself.”
OFSPs are rich in beta carotene, a compound also found in carrots, pumpkins and other orange-fleshed foods. The body converts this into vitamin A, which is important for human growth and development and for maintaining the immune system and good vision. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to slow bone development and stunted growth. According to the World Health Organization, lack of dietary vitamin A means that each year up to half a million children in developing countries lose their sight.
Mr. Mollel became convinced that growing and eating OFSP would help small-scale farming families improve their health and incomes. He said, “I became very interested in […] improving children’s nutrition. This, I believe, will be good for the economy and the country at large.”
He approached his friend Dickson Mhoro for help. Mr. Mhoro has plenty of experience in agriculture. He worked for the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for eight years. The two men set up their business in 2013, focusing on growing OFSP on Mr. Mhoro’s two hectares of land in Kigamboni, on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Mr. Mhoro said, “We have two types of OFSP vines: Kabode is very strong and Mataya produces many [sweet] potatoes. As for fertilizer, I’ve started using organic poultry manure, which seems to be working well this season. The OFSP needs three to four months to harvest.”
The two men have distributed their vines to farmers in and around Dar es Salaam and further afield.