This innovation aims to serve smallholder farmers and their families, government agricultural extension workers, and local researchers from in-country agricultural institutions. These individuals have been trained as part of testing this innovation and have since provided valuable feedback that can inform the process of further disseminating and scaling up this climate-resilient, nutrition-sensitive intervention.
Mission and Vision
It is our hope that through promoting sweet potato leaves for human consumption, we can divert valuable micronutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, K and minerals (e.g. potassium, magnesium, phosphorus) to the most nutritionally-vulnerable individuals, including women of reproductive age and young children. Sweet potato leaf consumption can be promoted among farming communities for climate resilience and nutrition security, as sweet potatoes are hearty, drought-tolerant and multi-use.
For preparation and consumption, choose sweet potatoes with deep green leaves and dark flesh for the most nutrients. The whole tips of the sweet potato are edible, including the leaves, stems, and leaf stalks. The leaves, however, are the most nutritious. Use sweet potato leaves immediately after harvest for the most nutrients. Otherwise, store the leaves properly: if you have refrigeration, put them in a plastic bag with holes for ventilation; if not, keep them moist in a cool, dark place, or put the stems in water.
Fat is important for the body's absorption of vitamin A, so cook the leaves with some fat (e.g. small amounts of oil or butter). If you consume the leaves raw as a salad, eat them with a dressing that has some fat (e.g. oil). To make nutrients more available and to make the leaves taste better, cook the leaves with heat (e.g. lightly steam, blanching, stir-fry, boil, etc.) for short periods. Cut them up into smaller pieces and don’t cook the leaves for too long or some nutrients may be lost. In general, the smaller the food particle size, the better – so lightly cooked, pureed green leaves, or finely chopped cooked green leaves are better than raw, whole leaves. Consider cooking leaves with lemon to retain vitamins and minerals, and substituting them in any local dish that would use another leafy green.
Examples of local Ethiopian dishes that can incorporate sweet potato leaves include kurkufa and fosese, as well as a simple saute or adding them into a salad.
This innovation is better than existing innovations because farmers in many parts of Ethiopia are already growing sweet potatoes, and having families consume the leaves is a more direct and arguably better use than as fodder or plant propagation material. Because a pilot project that has reached 112 families has already been completed in Wolaita, the training and extension materials have already been developed and translated into Amharic, with local field staff well-versed in disseminating this innovation among local communities.
Furthermore, sweet potato leaves can be harvested between 45-90 days after planting, 1-2 times per month until the roots are harvested, without compromising root growth. The best way to harvest multiple vines is to cut 1-2 of the longest branches of each plant, leaving about 10 cms for the plant to regrow.
This innovation requires minimal education and behavior change and farmers can adopt the practice almost immediately if the leaves are in season.
Planned Goals and Milestones
During the pilot, we supported smallholder families to make sweet potato leaves part of their regular diet through building capacity of local extension staff, influential community leaders and farmers. In the project's next phase, we will focus on scaling to a wider geographical area, while improving the production efficiency of sweet potato, both its leaves and tuber. In this phase, we will use radio spots and engage with additional key actors like research institutions and universities.