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HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Digging in to sweet potatoes

Heather-Lynn Evanson

HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Digging in to sweet potatoes

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They have been a mainstay of local dishes from times of slavery.

But changing tastes and perceptions have conspired to drive them into the background.

But now the sweet potato and, to a lesser extent, cassava, are enjoying a resurgence of interest.

And that interest is bolstered by research studies which suggest they are the root crops of the future as Barbados and the other islands of the region experience drier conditions as result of climate change.

This week, Heather-Lynn’s Habitat digs into the sweet potato potential.

The research is in.

And sweet potatoes are the best root crop to help feed islands as drought conditions and climate change threaten.

Dr Dale Rankine, of the University of the West Indies Climate Studies Group, Mona, Jamaica, is the author of the study and he says the islands of the region should invest more in the root crop.

“We were actually looking at yield response to water under different scenarios of climate change and water availability,” he explained.

“We found sweet potatoes were incredibly resilient to drought of all the root crops and, out of all the crops that exist, it is the most drought tolerant variety, drought tolerate crop that we have,” he said, adding it would also do well with irrigation.

He explained that the results came out of a research paper he conducted on the crop at the Climate Studies Group.

He added that sweet potato was one of the crops “we should be investing in in a significant way”, but bemoaned the fact that the region was not pushing it as an export commodity.

“Unfortunately we don’t have high exports of sweet potatoes from the Caribbean. I think Jamaica is probably the only country that exports sweet potato at the moment and unfortunately the United States market is closed to our exports anyway,” he said.

However, Rankine has lauded his country’s push towards more investment in cassava.

“That has actually been used on a wide scale as a replacement for barley and there are other crops we are looking at as replacements for wheat,” he said.