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The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is encouraging more use of sweet potato as a healthy starch staple, based on the health and investment benefits of the product, as confirmed by research.
Such benefits include its local availability, overseas demand and economic viability. Additionally, the fact that it is well accepted culturally, suggests that most consumers will be receptive to new and innovative ways of preparing the staple.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Christopher Tufton, tells JIS News that those qualities make sweet potato an ideal starch staple to advance the Ministry’s ‘Eat Jamaican’ campaign. He says the Ministry will therefore be focusing on increased local use and promotion of the product in the coming months.
Director of Marketing at the Ministry, Sandor Pyke, reports that already, discussions are advanced with the Scientific Research Council (SRC) and several local restaurants in relation to sweet potato use. “The SRC is looking at varieties and formulation for chip making, while local top restaurants are doing trials,” he says.
Recently, Tourejon Food Processors established a factory in Clarendon to prepare vacuum packed, sweet potato for the local and overseas markets. Tourejon says its vacuum packed sweet potato is easy to prepare and can make versatile, healthy fibre rich meals in six to 10 minutes.
The Ministry’s Marketing Division reports that research has also revealed more interesting facts, attesting to the nutritive value of the sweet potato. The root crop has been declared by the Centre of Science in the Public Interest as “the perfect vegetable,” surpassing carrots, spinach, and broccoli in nutritional value. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A, B, C, potassium, and beta-carotene.
This gives the product healing properties as an antioxidant food. Both beta-carotene and vitamin C are very powerful antioxidants that work in the body to eliminate free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals that damage cells and cell membranes and are associated with conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and heart disease.
The Division states that the bulk of sweet potato produced in Jamaica is consumed locally with chief outlets being supermarkets, parochial markets, shops, hotels, and restaurants. There is a high demand for the product overseas with major export markets in Canada and the United Kingdom. “It is estimated that Jamaican sweet potato has a 20 per cent share of the UK market, with smaller markets in the Cayman Islands and Martinique,” the Division notes.
Marketing profiles produced by the Ministry’s marketing team describe sweet potato as a good investment, due to current and anticipated market demand, adaptability to the Jamaican ecology, foreign exchange earning potential, and good returns.
The three-year profitability model presented in these profiles, give production costs and returns for a one hectare sweet potato farm, using 2008 production costs. Calculations show that a new grower requires approximately $110,000.00 for capital costs and $377,885.00 for operating costs in the first year of production. For each of the other two years, $373,595.00 is spent. A sweet potato grower can therefore make gross revenue of about $1.2 million a year. Net Present Value (NPV), documented in the profiles and based on these calculations, stands at $1.1 million. This indicates that sweet potato production is a viable and profitable enterprise for a new producer.
Net present value is an analysis of future cash yields, based on the current and future value of the same dollar. NPV is sensitive to the reliability of future cash inflows that an investment will yield.
The Ministry, through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), provides assistance for selected crops like sweet potato, under a domestic food crop production programme. The goal is to produce more domestic food for local consumption, thereby reducing reliance on imports, and providing goods for export markets.
Assistance include transfer of technology, land preparation, and the provision of planting material. Negotiation of marketing arrangements to sell produce locally or overseas is provided, based on needs analysis surveys.
Although sweet potato is grown islandwide, the main cultivation is concentrated in the Newport and Rose Hill areas of Manchester as well as in some sections of St. Elizabeth. Production occurs year round, and it grows on a wide variety of soil types. However, there is a preference for sandy loams that are light and loose in texture, and well drained. The crop also responds well to irrigation, resulting in higher yields. Pest threats have been brought under control through extensive research and biological control. The main threats are the sweet potato weevil and the green beetle.
Ministry profiles note that the sweet potato may be harvested four to six months after planting, under favourable conditions. A major feature of the sweet potato is that it does not have to be processed or fumigated before being exported.

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