- The value chain for sweet potatoes is similar to that of other commodities, where producers respond to demand and go through various steps before exporting.
- These various steps include acquiring input, producing the sweet potato plants, harvesting them, and transporting them to sellers before they reach consumers.
- The more efficient these processes are, the cheaper the product is. This is where technical assistance providers come into play, as they help optimise the value chain.
- Production takes three months, with two additional months required for selection and value added. Overlapping cycles are possible.
Process flow and the cost of sweet potato value chain management
The purpose of a carefully delineated process flow in the sweet potato value chain is to provide a basis from which to estimate all costs involved and the corresponding investment needs. This flow starts with acceptance of the order from the buyer, through selecting farmers, production planning, input procurement, production, harvesting and post-harvest handling and processing, to the delivery of the fresh or processed product to the buyer and receiving payment to dispose of the financial proceeds equitably to the team of stakeholders.
Production Process Flow
Sweet potato has a 3-month growing cycle, with an additional month for farmer selection, one for value addition where appropriate, and another month budgeted for packing, delivery and receipt of payment. The investment cycle could be five to six months, but there could be overlapping cycles in order to have a regular spread over the supply season.
The more efficient the coordination among the stakeholders, the more probability of chain maturity and growth. Other supporting value chain stakeholders, such as business development service providers, technical assistance providers and VCCs, could also play a significant role. For instance, they could aid in strengthening production capacity and resilience, organisational management, the implementation of risk mitigation practices, and coordinating the communication and operational flow among stakeholders.
Fresh sweet potato cost of production in the Caribbean (US$/lb, 2015)
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Jamaica||Antigua and Barbuda||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|
|Cost of production (US$/lb)|
Source: Stewart (2015, p. 67)
These estimated costs are meant to be used as an example and include labour operations, materials (fertiliser, seeds, tools, etc.), land charges (lease, share), and transportation. These figures are indicative and based on a 2015 survey. The cost of production is increased by the cost of irrigation and conversely decreased by the increase in yield due to irrigation. The challenge is to introduce irrigated production systems which will have a net decrease in the cost of production.
Many parts of the sweet potato plant are edible, including the root, leaves and shoots. Sweet potato vines also provide the basis for a high-protein animal feed. Sweet potato use has diversified considerably over the last four decades. With a high starch content, it is well-suited for processing and has become an important source of raw material for starch and starch-derived industrial products.
This provides an excellent linkage with the livestock industry and can be another way to mitigate the risks of investments as the product portfolio diversifies. Added value for farmers comes from a variety of products and ingredients made from sweet potato root including flour, dried chips, juice, bread, noodles, candy and pectin. New products include liquors and a growing interest in the use of the anthocyanin pigments in the purple varieties for food colouring, and use in the cosmetics industry. Linkages with the cosmetic industry may provide another investment opportunity for financial institutions.
The sweet potato plant can also be used:
- To produce biofuel. In fact, it has the potential to produce 30% more starch per acre than corn.
- To produce animal feed. By using other parts of the plant such as roots, leaves, and shoots, animal feed can be produced.
- No governments and/or agencies to certify export-readiness. However, countries such as Jamaica, and Saint-Vincent and the Grenadines can be considered export-ready.
- Technical assistance can help optimise processes and help farmers reach their potential and become export-ready.
Field visit ARMAG Farms, Barbados, 2015