Contact: Mr. Musa Mtileni, +27 (0)12 808 8000

Sweet potato is an important food security crop in South Africa, especially in rural areas. One major constraint in production of sweet potato is a shortage of planting material of improved varieties. To address this constraint, ARC-Roodeplaat assists with the establishment of sweet potato nurseries in major production areas. Sweet potato variety evaluation trials were conducted since 2003 where farmers were involved in selection of preferred varieties. The nursery project aims to multiply and distribute virus free sweet potato planting material of tested and accepted varieties in targeted sites in sweet potato producing areas, which will in the long-term promote economic opportunities in the rural areas through increasing production of the crop.

​Research Focus Areas

In 2006 nurseries were established in Nongoma and Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal, Sandsloet, Ga-Kgatla, Sekhukhune and Bochum in Limpopo Province and Nothenga near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Furthermore, in 2007 new areas were established in Giyani (Limpopo), Hazyview (Mpumalanga), Empangeni (KwaZulu-Natal), and Cookhouse (Eastern Cape). Follow-up visits are made three to four times throughout the year to monitor progress of the established nurseries. Training is provided in making of cuttings, planting method, spacing and management of nurseries. Since establishment of the nurseries good progress was made at various localities. The nurseries distributed a large number of cuttings from the established original nurseries to other communities and to farmers.

In the implementation of sweet potato nurseries to address food security and malnutrition, specific constraints have been experienced that hinders sustainability of the nurseries. These include lack of irrigation water, unsustainable multiplication and supply systems for planting material, and lack of information materials.

Future research is planned in this regard to develop and test appropriate technologies to improve the sustainability of sweet potato nurseries. This will entail looking at sustainable community-based supply systems for sweet potato as well as over wintering systems for planting material in nurseries in different climates, e.g. subtropical climate, heavy winter frost, winter rainfall and moderate winter. Techniques that will be evaluated are e.g. earthing-up, mulching, netted structures and plastic tunnels. In addition, multiplication procedures will be optimized and cultivar specific multiplication requirements will be identified. Participatory methods will be utilized to obtain the opinions of growers on sweet potato seed systems. Marketing of the nurseries and consumption and production of the sweet potato crop through farmers’ days at some of the nurseries are taking place. Planned future publications will include an information/training manual based on the results of research on over-wintering strategies.

​Research Team

  1. M. Mtileni (Senior Research Technician) –

    Project leader

  2. S. Laurie (Senior Researcher)

  3. S. Tjale (Research Technician)

Publications and Presentations

MTILENI, MM, TJALE SS & LAURIE, SM. 2008. Introduction of sweet potato nurseries, marketing of new cultivars and training to alleviate poverty in rural communities. SASAT congress. Shelley Point. St Hellena Bay.
16 -19 Sep.