“When I adopted this style of farming, planting this crop, it made a big difference to my family. At first, I was sleeping in a grass thatched house. Now, I have constructed a [brick] house.”
In 2016, Gerald Action was struggling to produce the same crop yields he used to, a challenge many farmers were experiencing. Gerald grows sweet potatoes in Southern Malawi, where persistent, intense droughts have increased due to climate change. As a result, Gerald was using more resources to cultivate his sweet potatoes but harvesting less than in prior years, putting his family’s nutrition, and their livelihood, in jeopardy. This story of rapidly changing climate conditions leading to food insecurity is echoed in the experience of smallholder farmers across the world, many of whom are already living in extreme poverty.
Recognizing this problem, CGIAR scientists at the International Potato Center (CIP) got to work researching and developing new varieties of sweet potatoes that can withstand hotter, drier climates. These new varieties mature faster, are more resilient to drought, pests and disease and require no fertilizer or additives, all while producing higher yields.
In addition to improving livelihoods, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are protecting the health of farmers and their communities, thanks to biofortification with vitamin A. More than 140 million preschool-aged children globally suffer from vitamin A deficiency – a leading cause of preventable blindness in children. To date, more than 6.8 million households in Africa and South Asia are growing and eating these sweet potatoes, reducing child mortality rates by as much as 30%.
For Gerald, growing the new sweet potatoes helped him break the cycle of hunger and economic instability. Now, his family not only has enough to eat, but also enough to sell for a profit. Thanks to CGIAR’s research, Gerald and his family were able to build a new house, invest in livestock and diversify crop production with their extra earnings. And beyond improving their day-to-day lives, farmers like Gerald are now able to look to the future and invest in their children’s education. For the millions of sweet potato farmers across 91 countries, CGIAR’s research into new varieties can help provide them with the economic stability to flourish in a changing climate.