Sweetpotato: Combat The GM Yellow Rice Scare Campaign While Feeding The Poor

Sweetpotato ‘Marguerite’ in a bedding display at Sydney Botanic Gardens, 2002.Pleased I got my sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) crop planted this week. It’s so easy to grow in a warm climate. Here in Brisbane I aim for two crops of (mostly) rain watered tubers a year. I’m never without their edible leaves, and bees like their flowers. I use them strategically as decorative, undemanding groundcovers, but sweetpotato is also becoming an anti-GM champion for communities that grow it.

Sweetpotato is a rich source of fibre as well as containing an array of vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, selenium, and they’re a good source of most of our B vitamins and vitamin C. One of the key nutritional benefits of sweet potato is that they’re high in an antioxidant known as beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A once consumed. To get the most nutrition from your sweet potatoes, don’t peel – simply scrub well before cooking. A study by Food & Nutrition Research found that purple sweet potatoes contain a specific group of antioxidants also known as anthocyanins which have been shown to be beneficial to the eyes.

Basics apply to sweetpotato culture: plants in well dug, freely draining soil that has been enriched with compost or manure (cow/ horse/ sheep) or a green manure.Soil pH can range from an acidic 5 to a neutral 7. It’s wise to add trace elements (aka micronutrients) once a year before planting. Be warned: too much nitrogen and you get a leafy groundcover with few tubers.

Pretty and productive: Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’

Stem cuttings 30cm long are 90% covered in soil and watered in before mulching over. Or plant those baby sweetpotatoes that aren’t worth peeling. I mulch with sugarcane.

As the crop grows you can build up the soil on top of your crop. In the back garden, I repeatedly add thin layers of horse manure and let the plants grow through it.

I spray leaves with molasses (250ml per 7 litres water) to control grasshoppers which otherwise exploit my sweetpotato as their nurseries.

Foliar feeding with seaweed solution every three weeks is the only extra food they get. Foliar feeding directly benefits the sweetpotato and – if you’re applying it properly so as to wet only the foliage – nothing else. In 2005, I started growing sweetpotato as a vandal-proof groundcover in my footpath garden. I also grow Banksias there. Foliar feeding has been the key to succeeding with their different nutritional needs.

It’s hot, sunny, windy and very dry in my footpath garden, so I water new cuttings until they root; about three weeks. In prolonged drought, they get supplementary watering once a month in summer.

Use your fingers to feel the sweetpotato have reached harvestable size. Once a crop is finished, ensure no tubers remain. If you leave any behind, they will become nurseries for weevils which spoil the tubers of successive crops.

Lift and handle sweetpotato with care; bruises may decay during storage. Wash and dry sweetpotato in the sun for three days.I put mine on shadecloth out on the lawn in the daytime and then bring them indoors at night. Curing tubers improves their ability to store. I keep some in the fridge ready for use and the bulk I store in a rat-proof, mouse-proof meat safe indoors.

Healthy sweetpotato recipes from BBC Good Food 

Moroccan chicken with sweet potato mash;
Spinach, sweet potato & lentil dhal;
Jerk sweet potato & black bean curry;
Spiced chicken, spinach & sweet potato stew;

GM yellow rice is not a sustainable, community solution to malnutrition

You may be aware that Gene Technology multinationals are on the media warpath claiming that communities are wrong to oppose their new GM yellow rice, an artificial plant invented with higher amounts of Vitamin A than normal rice as their contribution to help combat malnutrition of the world’s poorest people.

Think again. This is a well calculated GM Trojan Horse. Farmers who grow GM crops have signed contracts to buy seed, machinery, pesticides and fertilisers manufactured by these multinationals, they do as they are told, when they are told by the company, and they spray and feed and sell according to their company contracts which make sure to channel money back to multinationals. It’s a very big, highly profitable business for a corporation.

GM multinationals have competition. Between 2013 and 2019, UK Aid funding allowed the International Potato Centre and partners to deliver pro-vitamin A-rich, sweetpotato cultivars to more than 2.3 million families in five African countries and Bangladesh.

A new phase of support is building on that success to significantly scale up the development and delivery of nutrient-rich, climate-resilient staple crops, like sweetpotato.

The new programme targets vulnerable populations where micronutrient deficiencies are highest, including women of reproductive age, adolescent girls and children under five, with a goal of reaching at least 67 million people in the developing world by 2023. These low-income populations will gain access to, produce, and consume nutrient-dense foods.

In short, aid and research using traditional methods of crop improvement are co-operatively engaging with the communities who most need this assistance and it is these same communities who are helping to improve their lives themselves.

Local sweetpotato growers are not being locked into contracts with profit-stripping GM companies to grow time, water and resource consuming specialist crops like GM yellow rice, the GM Trojan Horse, which will be sold at prices that the poor cannot afford.

Instead, small farmers and family food growers are being empowered through a holistic programme. Their food security is becoming more resilient to global warming whilst improving public health.

Sweetpotato ‘Ace of Spades’: purple leaves, tasty little tubers and a vandal-proof groundcover.

Programmes like these keep options open for a safer, healthier future. Not profiteering companies who’s pseudo-community engagement ends at the till. The International Potato Centre is engaging the communities they aim to help in the design and delivery of food security and public health programmes.

Whenever you hear Australia’s Gene Ethics Network name checked, give them your time and support. They are the very thin but highly ethical line between us and multinational GM greed and spin that so successfully lobbies our national and state governments.

Currently, there are just a few more days remaining before parliament considers removing the few remaining GM food safety rules, checks and labelling requirements. The Senate decides on November 13, so please have your say here, sign the petition and share it.

Who needs yellow rice? Bayer* shareholders do.

Grow and eat more sweetpotato. Take time to read the link provided below.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Network Inc.
Patron, Householder’s Options for Protecting the Environment Inc.
Patron, National Toxics Network Inc.

* Monsanto was a manufacturer of DDT, PCB’s, Agent Orange and recombinant bovine growth hormone. Its seed patenting model was criticised as biopiracy and a threat to biodiversity as invasive species. GM pollen from wind pollinated GM corn has contaminated remaining wild corn populations. They have permanently contaminated corn’s gene pool. Monsanto developed Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, in the 1970s and became a major producer of genetically engineered crops.

Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018. Bayer is a company with form. During the Second World War, Bayer helped Nazi Germany make the process of mass murder in concentration camps faster and more deadly.

Bayer and Monsanto are perfect bedfellows.

See:

UK Aid funding enables CIP and partners to expand the fight against malnutrition