Resilient Nutritious Sweetpotato

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View from the field: Challenges in international agriculture

 
Today’s world is a hungry place. Some 870 million are undernourished; the number of those who suffer from “hidden hunger,” or micronutrient deficiency, is pushing two billion. Undernutrition has actually increased in poor countries in both Asia and in many African countries, where the number of underweight children has almost doubled since 1980. In developing countries, the effects of hunger and malnutrition on the rural poor can be devastating. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is one of the most pernicious forms of undernourishment: it can limit growth, weaken immunity, lead to blindness, and increase mortality. Globally, 163 million children younger than 5 years suffer from VAD: 65 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and roughly 49 million in Asia. The vast majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas; their nutritional security depends upon productivity of their land, crops, and available agricultural technologies. Agriculture throughout Asia and Africa has not kept pace with the changing needs for more nutritious food. Only recently have national agricultural policies begun to look at nutrition as a primary goal, and agricultural research systems in many countries need to take this concern into account and be better connected to global science and to delivery systems that can reach the rural poor. New challenges are raising the bar further. Climatic changes threaten agricultural productivity, and global food price fluctuations increase the vulnerability of both rural and urban poor. Smallholder farmers urgently need agricultural technologies that can help them produce nutritious and marketable food and take advantage of economic opportunities from growing demand for food among expanding and urbanizing populations. Which crops and technologies will be most effective in achieving this transformation, and what are the best ways to enable millions of smallholder farmers to access and use them?  

Transforming livelihoods with sweetpotato

CIP is a recognized global leader in the development and dissemination of biofortified, vitamin A-rich orange- flesh sweetpotato (OFSP). From our early R&D work with the crop we are now responding to increasing global demand for OFSP through a phased scaling-up program in Africa, Asia, and Haiti. Biofortification, which increases micronutrient content in sweetpotato or other crops through conventional breeding, sustainably builds micronutrient supply into the regular, daily food production and consumption patterns. This eliminates the need for continuous investments in the delivery of nutrition supplements. Over the next 10 years the program will focus on locations where malnutrition is prevalent and where sweetpotato has an inherent agronomic advantage as a short-cycle crop that requires few inputs and can produce comparatively high yields even under marginal conditions. This program will coordinate closely with the CGIAR Research Programs (CRP) in which CIP participates, particularly with Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).

Better nutrition

OFSP, when coupled with nutrition education at the community level, provides vitamin A cost‐effectively and at high levels of bioavailability to vulnerable populations, especially women and young children. In many environments, OFSP production from 500 m2 can provide enough vitamin A for a family of five. It is a good source of energy, a number of B vitamins, and vitamins C and K. These are vital benefits for the majority of people affected by VAD who live in rural areas where conventional VAD interventions such as supplementation and food fortification are less effective. Building on a strong evidence base of the efficacy of OFSP and using tested and effective delivery systems, CIP is developing linkages with other biofortification and diet diversification efforts as well as with wider nutrition and education programs to realize the full nutrition potential of OFSP at large scale. Our global and regional breeding programs, particularly in Africa, will continue to generate improved vitamin A-rich OFSP varieties to support this effort, which will be complemented by interventions oriented to improve the availability of quality planting material and sustainable crop intensification. Our progress on further biofortification of sweetpotato to increase iron and zinc levels will produce varieties with these traits in the coming years.

More income to women

OFSP’s contributions to the livelihoods of the poor go beyond the crop’s health and nutritional benefits. In most African countries, sweetpotato is almost exclusively a woman’s crop and it can add significantly to women’s income where market linkages are established. CIP has been working with women farmers and traders to expand these income opportunities and break into larger and more competitive urban markets with fresh OFSP roots. Demand among food processing companies to include OFSP and other sweetpotato as a major ingredient in a number of products is also increasing, both as a cost-effective wheat substitute and to capture a market premium for more nutritious products. In Africa, CIP works with large private sector food processors as well as with fresh roots traders to develop new value chains for OFSP and link women farmers to these opportunities. In Asia, these markets are well established and rapidly diversifying. We are working with women farmers to strengthen their access to sweetpotato varieties and technologies that make them more competitive in highly dynamic market chains.

A new level of partnership

For sweetpotato to play its full role in the fight against malnutrition and poverty, it needs to become everybody’s agenda. Working with diverse stakeholders including communities and donors, CIP is catalyzing action among a broad coalition of partners that is driving investment and implementation in key areas of R&D. Such innovative partnerships are central to our success. In the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa project, for example, we have coordinated and sped up nutrition-focused sweetpotato breeding programs across Africa and pioneered collaboration with health centers and food processing for effective delivery and targeting of vulnerable households. Similar activities and coalitions are underway with the Horticulture Project in Bangladesh. Our partnership with the CIP-China Center for Asia and the Pacific will play a pivotal role in strengthening capacity for sweetpotato—particularly in value chains—by linking pertinent Chinese experiences to demand in Asian and African target countries. All OFSP scaling-up projects will include specific capacity-building and technology ex- change components that will fully use CIP’s global reach to link up national and regional expertise. Through CGIAR Research Program platforms, synergies with related research in other crops and on agricultural systems allow us to accelerate our progress, further strengthen our partnerships, and achieve wider impacts.

Tapping the potential

Over the next 10 years scaling-up efforts will focus on resilient, nutritious OFSP varieties that are adapted to the local environment, perform well, and meet SO1consumer taste preferences. Our OFSP programs should reach at least 15 million resource‐poor households in Africa, Asia, and Haiti by enabling them to improve the quality of their diet by 20% and raise their crop income by 15%. These efforts should increase production and intake of vitamin A-rich OFSP and future biofortified sweetpotato varieties, diversify use of sweetpotato, and expand gender‐ equitable market chains. This target includes at least 2.5 million households as direct beneficiaries in intervention areas and at least 12.5 million as indirect beneficiaries reached through follow- on dissemination by farmers, extension agents, and other stakeholders. To reach these numbers, we need active, ongoing engagement with our partners, support and buy-in of the full spectrum of our stakeholders and donors. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas is an essential platform for this strategic objective.

Tab Combating Vitamin A Deficiency

We will enable at least 15 million households (HH) to improve the quality of their diets and raise their crop incomes over the next 10 years in countries with micronutrient deficiencies in Africa and Asia as well as in Haiti. We will reach this goal by increasing the production and utilization of nutritious sweetpotato, starting with biofortified OFSP, a proven technology for reducing vitamin A deficiency (VAD) among women and small children. Responding to strong regional and national demand for more nutritious foods, we will work with our national partners to generate new, locally adapted and nutritious OFSP varieties. We will help our partners to scale-up use of these varieties through accelerated breeding, improved multiplication techniques, diversified value chain development, and evidence-based policies. We will establish strategic partnerships for going to scale and accompany this process with strategic research to assess cost-effectiveness, pro-poor focus, and gender inclusiveness. SO 1 will contribute to five of the CGIAR Intermediate Development Outcomes (IDOs), particularly that of increased intake of nutritious food by vulnerable populations. This SO will also address all four System Level Objectives (SLOs), especially those of reduction in rural poverty and increased food security.

By 2023, this flagship aims to reach at least 15 million resource‐poor HH in SSA, Asia, and Haiti by enabling them to improve the quality of their diet by 20% and raise their crop income by 15%. It will achieve this through increased production and intake of vitamin A-rich OFSP and future biofortified sweetpotato varieties, diversified use of sweetpotato, and expansion of gender‐equitable market chains. This target includes at least 2.5 million HH as direct beneficiaries in intervention areas and at least 12.5 million HH as indirect beneficiaries reached through further follow-on dissemination by farmers, extension agents, and other stakeholders.[1] We expect that during the implementation period of SO 1, other biofortified sweetpotato, including varieties rich in iron and zinc, will become available for proof-of-concept research and subsequent scaling-out. These will be promoted as second- and third-wave flagship products using a similar approach as outlined for OFSP in this chapter.



[1] We expect additional beneficiaries among consumers from expanding urban market chains. To quantify these, we will develop measurements and processes to monitor consumption of OFSP beyond the HH level.

At present, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that there are 870 million undernourished people on the planet. Almost two billion suffer from “hidden hunger,” or micronutrient deficiency—specifically, iron, vitamin A, zinc, iodine, and folic acid deficiencies.[1] This SO’s immediate focus is to combat VAD; reducing iron and zinc deficiency will be subsequent targets over the next 10 years. VAD can limit growth, weaken immunity, cause xeropthalmia, lead to blindness, and increase mortality.[2] Globally, 163 million children under 5 years of age suffer from VAD, with the highest prevalence rates found in Central and West Africa (40%) and South Central Asia (30%).[3] Significant progress has been made in reducing VAD in Latin America and the Caribbean; Haiti, with a prevalence rate of 22.3%, is the one exception.[4] In many African countries and poor countries in Asia, the problem of undernutrition has actually been increasing. The number of underweight children in Africa has almost doubled since 1980 and is forecast to be 25% higher in 2015 than in 1990.[5] Agriculture in these countries has largely failed to keep up with the changing needs for more nutritious food, as policies have until recently overlooked nutrition and research systems have fallen behind global scientific advances. Technology and information delivery systems are not well connected to high-impact partners. This has weakened innovation systems. New challenges from climatic changes are threatening agricultural productivity, and global food price fluctuations are jeopardizing food and nutrition security among vulnerable populations. Smallholder farmers largely do not realize the potential benefits of increased market demand for food stemming from urbanization and improved trade. In Asia, 80–90% of the poor live in rural areas, and in Africa over 70%. In East and Southern Africa over 85% of the poor live on land that has a medium to high potential for increased productivity.[6] What is urgently required are agricultural technologies that can produce nutritious and marketable food in agro-ecologies and socioeconomic contexts that are important to the poor.



[1] Van Jaarsveld et al. ibid.

[2] Low et al. ibid.

[3] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2012. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl

[4] Ruel, M.T. et al. 2013. Nutrition-sensitive interventions and programmes: how can they help to accelerate progress in improving maternal and child nutrition? The Lancet 382, Issue 9891: 536–551. Published online June 6, 2013  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60843-0

[5] Andrade, M., I. Barker, D. Cole, H. Dapaah, H. Elliott, S. Fuentes, W. Grüneberg, et al. 2009. Unleashing the potential of sweetpotato in Sub-Saharan Africa: Current challenges and way forward. International Potato Center (CIP), Lima, Peru. Working Paper 2009-1. 197 p. 

[6] International Fund for Agricultural Development. http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/region/home/tags/africa

CIP is a recognized global leader in the development and dissemination of biofortified, vitamin A-rich OFSP. The use of OFSP, when introduced along with nutrition education at the community level, is a proven cost‐effective strategy for providing vitamin A at high levels of bioavailability to vulnerable populations.[1] OFSP production from 500 m2 can provide sufficient vitamin A for a family of five[2] and is a good source of energy, a number of B vitamins, and vitamins C and K.[3] These are vital benefits for the majority of people affected with VAD who live in rural areas where conventional VAD interventions such as supplementation and food fortification are ineffective. The strategic advantage of biofortified crops is that they sustainably build micronutrient supply into the regular, daily food production and consumption patterns without need for continuous investments in the delivery of nutrition supplements. However, biofortified crops overall lack a strong evidence base of efficacy in the field at this stage—with the notable exception of OFSP.[4] Still, for OFSP to achieve its full nutrition impact, linkages with other biofortification efforts (e.g., providing different micronutrients, using different crops) are important, as are complementarities with nutrition supplementation and education programs. In Zambia, we are already coordinating our OFSP work with the HarvestPlus orange maize project under one joint R&D program. We are also a partner to the HarvestPlus combined OFSP and high-iron beans program in Uganda and Rwanda. In Nigeria, we are developing similar linkages with a yellow cassava program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Working through RTB and A4NH, and also with Dryland Systems, Humidtropics, and AAS CRPs, CIP will pursue its OFSP objective in this wider context, targeting regions and farming systems where sweetpotato has a comparative advantage as a biofortified crop and, where possible, harnessing advances made by other crops in technology development and delivery systems.

 

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The core and flagship of this SO are resilient, nutritious OFSP varieties that are adapted to the local environment, perform well, and meet consumer taste preferences (Fig. 1). Locally important traits include virus and drought resistance, vine survival, high dry matter, low sugar, salinity tolerance, weevil resistance or avoidance, and early maturity. We will continue to use the sweetpotato genetic resource base by working with the CIP genebank and regional germplasm facilities. We will add unique sweetpotato landraces and other accessions to these genebanks as a way to expand the genetic foundation for future crop improvements in target countries. Flagship OFSP varieties, however, can only achieve broad impacts at scale if they are connected to several linked products. First-level research products are those that enable users from R&D sectors to use OFSP effectively, develop further specific products and services, and disseminate these to farmers and other stakeholders. 

 

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SO 1 Impact Pathway

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