Maria Mchele (right) tells her story of growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to Radio Maria broadcaster Agnes Shayo, who featured Maria’s story as part of a 16-week participatory radio campaign.
Maria Mchele walks out of her tin-roofed house carrying a yellow solar radio ready to collect sunrays. Beside her new house, her four grandchildren play in the shade of her old straw-roofed house.
Maria is a widow who is becoming a model for other villagers because of her success. She lives in the village of Mwasonge, in the Mwanza Region of Tanzania near Lake Victoria. After her husband died in 2004, she struggled to sustain her family of three children. She even tasted prison life in 2008 after she was sentenced to 10 days for selling illegal liquor. It was the only way she could earn money to buy food for her family after her crops were devastated by drought.
She recalls: “Ten days in prison was like 10 years to me. . . . I did not feel the pain of sleeping on the floor and the other chaos of being in prison … My brain and soul were with my children, thinking: How do they survive? . . . Shall I find them alive or dead?”
A week after her release from prison, Maria attended a village meeting where a representative from an NGO called TAHEA was encouraging farmers to multiply vines of orange-fleshed sweet potato, or OFSP. She joined four other farmers as vine multipliers in the village.
Unlike traditional sweet potato varieties, OFSP contains vitamin A, which is especially important to women and children’s health.
Selling OFSP vines is a profitable business. For five years now, Maria has made a good income—enough to build a new house and improve her family’s livelihood.
Maria’s story has influenced many listeners of Kilimo Chetu (Our Farming), Radio Maria’s farmer program. Maria’s story was recorded by broadcaster Agnes Shayo and aired a part of the participatory radio campaign promoting OFSP.
FRI’s participatory radio campaigns often uses farmers’ stories to engage listeners and to explain the benefits and challenges of new agricultural practices, such as growing OFSP.
Now, Maria is a champion vine supplier, sharing her belief in OFSP as a profitable and nutritious crop, and supporting other farmers interested in growing OFSP.
Our “Reducing vitamin A deficiency with orange-fleshed sweet potato” project is on air with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Maria Mchele on her farm growing orange-fleshed sweet potato.