The Potato: Enriching the Lives of Sierra Leone Women

Women in Sierra Leone are finding economic salvation and stature through the unlikely emergence of the lowly potato with the help of SkyFox Ltd. and its aquaculture business. But it’s not just any old potato. It’s called the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP), and it’s loaded with Vitamin A, which is often deficient in developing countries, especially in children. Sierra Leone is experiencing a bumper OFSP crop due to SkyFox’s experience in other West African countries in raising catfish with nutrient-enriched irrigation from fish ponds water.

SkyFox is a Ghana-based business that received a boost five years ago when it competitively was chosen to receive assistance under the worldwide Securing Water for Food (SWFF) program. The program is funded by USAID and the governments of South Africa, Sweden, and the Netherlands. While the SWFF program has transitioned into one that is more aggressive in seeking commercial and NGO investors, it was the genesis of dozens of innovative agricultural programs. 

Patrick Apoya, the cofounder and CEO of SkyFox, is proud of the results of his partnership with SWFF. The company is poised for an initial public offering on the Ghana exchange. He likes to highlight the Sierra Leone work of SkyFox for both its success in helping feed the population but also in elevating the status of women.

We have never realized such harvests before. If this continues, it will change our economic and livelihood status.

“The Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato is a traditional root crop. It is considered one of the most consumed and marketable plants which can give a satisfactory yield under adverse climate and soil conditions,” he said. 

The improved OFSP was made available in Sierra Leone in the northern community regions of Masingbi, Bumbuna, and Mile 91, where the SWFF project is concentrated. 

The results: 

“This intervention in the socioeconomic life of these communities has yielded amazing results,” said Apoya. “There were more than 4,000 tons of potatoes harvested from 195 acres of land.” In fact, Apoya said the success has resulted in more demand for the potato vine and is changing the farming practices and the mentality of the customers and other end-users.

“The yield and size of the potatoes were almost unbelievable,” said Apoya, with a 15 kg bag selling for an average price of $6.32. 

There was, however, that the second benefit that both Apoya and the SWFF leaders felt was critical to the program’s success since the demographics are about equal in men and women in the region. “Most of the women live on a very low income and face increased marginalization, neglect, and deprivation from their male counterparts,” said Apoya. “This means they have an inability to contribute meaningfully to the socioeconomic welfare of their own homes. 

“These women are exposed to harsh realities of fending for themselves and their children for their daily upkeep,” Apoya added. 

“Up until SkyFox and SWFF introduced the Orange Fleshed potato, their main livelihood included subsistence farming, firewood gathering and mining by hand which contributed to land degradation,” he added. 

Surveys showed that nearly 90 percent of the population in this particular northern area depended on agriculture for their daily livelihoods. However, using old-fashioned agricultural practices, the harvest crops were low, leading to meager earnings from small crop yields. 

“Most interesting,” said Apoya, “is that the beneficiaries, including women, are poised to teach other farmers within their communities, which will increase the production of the Orange Fleshed potato.” Apoya quoted the chairwoman of the Mamusa Farming Association: “We have never realized such harvests before. If this continues, it will change our economic and livelihood status. 

“We promise,” she said, “to sustain and continue with this farming practice.”



USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water