Kofi Adu Domfeh
KUMASI - Women in parts of the Upper East, Volta and Central regions of Ghana have found new love in sweet potatoes.
They farm a lot of the crop. However, the product is mainly boiled or fried to serve as menu on the local cuisine of households.
But, through the Root and Tuber Improvement and Marketing Programme (RTIMP) of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), women’s groups in the local communities have new opportunities to increase family incomes. Hitherto they were engaged in the production and selling of soymilk and soybean ice cream.
They are now in the business of producing yogurt from sweet potato and helping to train others in the production. The ‘Potaghurt’, is healthy and nutritious.
RTIM identified, supported and trained women’s groups in the business of producing value-added potato products.
“After the training on potaghurt production, we realized that the products that they trained us on were good so we asked for some of the things that we may need to produce the Potaghurt”, said Madam Doris, who belongs to the Wedada group in the Kasena Nankana West District of the Upper East region.
The women receive financial support under the RTIMP’s Micro-Enterprise Fund (MEF), a non-cash commodity chain facility designed to meet the needs of the rural poor. This involves a 10 percent equity contribution from beneficiary groups, 40 percent grant from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and 50 percent loan component from the Naara Rural Bank in Upper East Region.
The grant size ranges from $US400 for individuals in a group, to US$12,000 for growth oriented enterprises based on bankable business plan.
According to Dr. Oppong Mensah-Aborampah, business development training and marketing specialist in charge of the MEF, 48 enterprises and groups have been trained and supported to access the fund and over Gh¢382,000 total grant have been disbursed since 2007.
The women’s groups in the Potaghurt production have been supported with refrigerators, deep freezers, ice chests, sauce pans, ovens and blenders to prepare the Potaghurt.
They have performed “incredibly well”, says Kambilige Stanley, Project Officer of the Naara Rural Bank at Paga, noting that the women are recording almost 100 percent in loan repayment.
Already the RTIMP is looking forward to scaling up the Potaghurt business to other parts of the country where sweet potato is cultivated.
“All the farmers need to know is that there is market for the produce and they will go into the production of the sweet potato. So if the demand of the Potaghurt goes up, there will be market for the raw material and then farmers will go into production”, observed Veronica Ivy Dzreke, a Capacity Building and Linkages Officer with RTIMP.
She is excited at the demand for Potaghurt and believes building the capacity of the women in food hygiene, quality management and processing systems, business development, record keeping and costing will help sustain their businesses.
Presently, the business support has changed the fortunes of the women – beneficiaries can now further their education as well as support siblings and children’s education.
“It has helped some of us to be able to have market and that is bringing us income into our home… as at now I can use that money to purchase some small items that I need and if my husband gives me some money and it’s not enough I can use some of my profit to take care of the family”, said Madam Doris, who has moved her child from the public to private school because she can afford to pay the school fees from her improved income levels.
“What is left is to scale up and vigorously promote the product. For the start, sale points will be set up at the University of Development Studies whilst the RTIMP is in the process of advertising the product. The Ghana Institute of Packaging has been supported to develop a variety of packaging materials to snip varying products” says Akwasi Adjei Adjekum, the National Programme Coordinator of RTIMP.