Small scale sweet potato farmers given a head start

In 2020, COVID-19 and drought led to growing food security concerns in St Lucia. The CARDI office took the initiative to supply planting material and train farmers in the propagation and post-harvest management of commodities such as sweet potato, hot pepper and breadfruit. The goal was to improve production and minimize post-harvest losses mainly brought about by the disruptions to food supply chains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols, 6 farmers from across the island were trained in the rapid propagation technique for sweet potato at the CARDI field station in Dennery. Traditionally, sweet potato is cultivated from vine cuttings 30-40 cm long acquired from healthy parent plants with the desired characteristics. However, with the rapid propagation technique, the stems are cut into one node or two-node pieces, treated, grown out in a nursery and transplanted into the field after one month. Under drought conditions, this method guarantees a higher establishment rate since the plant’s root ball is well developed by the time of transplanting.

 

The training was filmed in both English and Creole and shared via WhatsApp with more than 150 farmers. They were encouraged to share with their counterparts.

 

The CARDI germplasm bank in St Lucia houses over 30 varieties of sweet potatoes. More than 3,000 cuttings for the yellow, white, orange and purple-fleshed varieties were supplied to farmers by the Institute. Approximately 90% of farmers who received cuttings from CARDI were small farmers who cultivate less than 1-acre plots.

 

Small farmers lack the required resources to ensure their production systems are tolerant to the vagaries of climate change. The adoption of the rapid multiplication technique enabled farmers to successfully improve their production during a challenging period.

 

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