Gender And The Dynamics Of Production And Distribution Of Sweet Potato Planting Materials Among Small Holder Farmers In The Lake Victoria Zone Region, Tanzania.

Open Access
Adam, Rahma Isaack
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 26, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Leland Luther Glenna, Dissertation Advisor
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Dissertation Advisor
  • Ann Rachel Tickamyer, Committee Member
  • Dr Clare Hinrichs, Committee Member
  • Karl Stephen Zimmerer, Committee Member
  • Jill Leslie Findeis, Special Member
  • Afica
  • sweet potato
  • farmers' local knowledge
  • seed conservation
  • acquisition of vine
  • social embeddedness
  • vines
Sweet potato plays a critical role as a food security crop in the tropics because it complements other food crops and serves as a famine reserve when cereal crops fail. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, the potential of sweet potato to contribute towards improvements in household food security in rural areas is hampered by the current low and sub-optimal productivity levels. The failure by local farmers to use clean planting materials, fertilizers, and pesticides is the leading factor associated with low sweet potato yields. This dissertation investigates the role of local knowledge and gender in farmers’ practices of production, management, and storage of sweet potato planting material in the smallholder farming systems within the Lake Victoria Zone Region of Tanzania. The data used in this research was collected from a survey conducted by the International Potato Center involving 621 households, and from my own in-depth interviews and focus groups in the Mwanza and Mara regions. The study found that sweet potato is a subsistence crop mainly grown for household consumption and only the surplus is sold. The findings show that women are involved in all the aspects of crop production from vine acquisition and management to harvesting and selling. The men and children may act as enablers for growing the crop, performing the arduous tasks of clearing the land and weeding. Occasionally men support women in sourcing planting material far from their community of residence. The majority of farmers recycle their planting materials from one planting season to the next. Farmers’ knowledge of diseases and quality of planting material was found to be “holistic”; farmers rarely distinguish between plant diseases, even though they are able to tell when the plant is unhealthy or not. In terms of the seed supply, acquisition, and conservation, the studied communities can be classified into four typologies of villages along a seed surplus-deficit continuum: “seed oasis,” “seed independent,” “pseudo-seed independent,” and “seed desert” villages respectively. The “seed oasis” village represented by the Bugando village was found to be critical in maintaining the informal seed supply structure in the study area because it is where the majority of the traditional vine sellers are found, operating mainly around the wetlands and lakeshore areas. The mode of transaction of the planting material was found to be dependent on the type of relationship that exists between the vine provider and the vine receiver; relatives of the vine providers and farmers from the same community received vines for free, while vine receivers not related to the provider or from outside communities are charged for the vines. The traditional vine sellers were found to have negligible contacts with agricultural research agencies, hence they have limited access to sweet potato vine propagation technologies. There are several implications arising from the findings of this study. First, interventions in the study area (and elsewhere in rural Africa) that seek to improve sweet potato productivity must include and place women at the forefront given the evidence of sweet potato being a “mamas’ crop.” Secondly, the findings imply a need and urgency to link traditional vine suppliers to scientists and extension agents to enable these vine suppliers to access improved vine production technologies. There is a need for policy attention towards providing support for the availability and access to irrigation infrastructure, and capital to enable the acquisition of inputs, including improved vines, fertilizers, and pesticides.