Sweet-potato value chain management

Currently, no established production processes are available that make products export-ready as efficiently as possible. There are many opportunities in the region to optimise production processes, produce at maximum level and sell different parts of the sweet potato plant, or to invest in alternative uses. Given that almost all farmers use traditional production methods, investments in technology are needed to enhance profitability and competitiveness. 

Key takeaways

  • 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

Schematic commodity value chain

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)
Production system Irrigated Rainfed Irrigated Rainfed Irrigated Rainfed Irrigated Rainfed
Range $0.35–$0.75 $0.26–$0.35 $0.15–$0.27 $0.13–$0.23 N/A N/A N/A $0.14–
$0.18
Average $0.50 $0.35 $0.21 $0.18 $0.17 $0.10 N/A

$0.15

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.

Processing

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.

Alternative Uses

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.

Export-Readiness

  • 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.

 

armag farms field visit

Field visit ARMAG Farms, Barbados, 2015

 

CTA FAST GUIDE cover

Download your Investment Guide here

The Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST) has partnered with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to develop an investment guide for the sweet-potato sector in the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) region for financial institutions (FIs), with financial support from the Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme (APP).

 

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