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CIP Partners with NC State, Others in Gates Foundation-Funded effort to accelerate improvement of OFSP

Jul 06 2015   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

Under the direction of North Carolina State University, CIP participated in the development of the project entitled Genomic Tools for Sweetpotato Improvement (GT4SP). Partners include The Boyce Thomson Institute at Cornell University; Michigan State University; the University of Queensland-Brisbane, Australia; the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization, National Crops Resources Research Institute; and the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Crops Research Institute.

“We are developing suitable populations, and genomic tools, including software and genomic models, to identify marker-trait associations, databases, and the whole genome sequences, in order to support identification of molecular markers linked to important traits in sweetpotato,” says Awais Khan, a plant geneticist at CIP. "We also have a strong capacity building component in the project to train sweetpotato breeders from Africa on molecular marker technology and its use in sweetpotato breeding.”

Khan is serving as the project coordinator for CIP’s portion of the work. CIP Ghana, CIP Kenya, CIP Peru, and CIP Uganda are all contributing resources to the work - a $4.1 million share of the overall the project that totals $12.4 million.

“OFSP is important for food security and human nutrition, particularly in Africa,” continues Khan. “It can grow in poor soils and is quite tolerant to several stresses, but still has the potential for significantly higher yields.” Yet its genetic makeup is complex. OFSP consumed around the world today is hexaploid, meaning it contains six complete sets of chromosomes. The work undertaken in GT4SP, however, will sequence a diploid – or two-chromosome – wild relative of OFSP, Khan says. The sequence and genetic information from the diploid explains the ability of sweetpotato to fight off viruses or withstand drought, for example. This can be translated to the hexaploid, leading to rapid development of better yielding and nutritious OFSP varieties for smallholder farmers in Africa and globally. “This is the first effort of its kind to develop tools to enable genetic improvement in the sweetpotato breeding process,” Khan says.

The four-year GT4SP project, which will last through August 2018, is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

GT4SP is not the first time CIP’s work has been underwritten by the Foundation. The Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) initiative is another beneficiary of funds from the Microsoft founder’s philanthropic concern.

What end users want: Sweetpotato speed breeders simulate varietal assessment and selection

Jul 03 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

The Speed Breeders held focus group discussions with five categories of sweetpotato end users – children, small scale livestock keepers, women, urban and rural sweetpotato consumers. During these discussions, the end users identified the traits that they most prefer in sweetpotato crops and the reasons why.

For example, one of the livestock keepers told the breeders: “We would like a sweetpotato variety that tastes good, has no strange flavor, is nutritious and produces abundant vines and roots.” Such a variety would be acceptable for household consumption, will be successful at the market and will reduce the costs of feeding livestock.

In the afternoon, the NaCRRI team demonstrated a leaf taste-test evaluation. Sweetpotato leaves had been prepared for consumption using three different local preparation methods. Each of the three cooked leaf varieties was labeled clearly. Before starting the exercise, the attributes were reviewed and clear guidelines provided to the participants.

Using a color card system, the cooked leaves were evaluated for appearance, taste and overall acceptability. The bags for receiving the cards were labeled with the name of the variety (A, B, C) and the attribute being assessed.

After this, the NaCRRI team conducted a pair-wise comparison of the cooked leaves. This stimulated a lot of discussion about the differences and helped to provide detailed explanations about the preferences.

Afterwards, the Speed Breeders used the same approach to simulate a consumer acceptability assessment of boiled roots from five sweetpotato varieties. The varieties, which had been labeled clearly, were evaluated for appearance, fibrousness, starchiness, sweetness and general acceptability.

The exercise simulated during this field visit is part of on-farm participatory varietal testing protocols, which are considered good practice by the Speed Breeders.

These protocols help to introduce varieties to farmers and test performance of promising varieties. They help breeders to learn more about the characteristics and socio-economic environment of the end users, and the desired traits.

They generate important information that breeders can use to tailor their research to the requirements of the end-users and ultimately, to increase adoption of sweetpotato cultivation and utilization.

Scaling-up utilization of the orange-fleshed sweetpotato: Practitioners discuss how to overcome the obstacles

Jun 25 2015   |   By: christine-bukania   |   0   |  

The obstacles to OFSP scale-up and solutions to these obstacles were discussed at the 2015 Marketing, Processing and Utilization Community of Practice (CoP), which was held on 20 and 21 May in Nairobi.

Increasing private sector involvement

“One of the bottlenecks of OFSP adoption at industrial scale is a prevailing gap between innovators, implementers and policy makers, said Jean Pankuku, the Group Food Technologist at Universal Industries Ltd, Malawi. The company is in the process of researching and developing some OFSP baked products that will contribute significant amount of dietary vitamin A. She suggested that if OFSP research was to translate to adoption, all stakeholders would have to be included in discussions about findings and progress of innovations right from the beginning.

Dr. Sindi Kirimi, the Country Manager of the Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) project in Rwanda, agreed. Emphasizing that the private sector’s priority was commercial viability, he said that for anything to go to scale, some conditions had to be fulfilled. “First, the product must be acceptable to the consumer and be either as good as any other product in the market or even better. Secondly, the product has to be commercially acceptable.” Kirimi called for an increased effort to combine scientific and business skills to develop solutions that were relevant to the market.


Policy matters

When it comes to OFSP, getting the consumer’s acceptance of the product is not as straightforward as one would imagine. “In Rwanda, we worked from the ground up for over four years to ensure that people understood the importance of vitamin A for their health and the role that OFSP could play in nutrition and food security,” Kirimi recalled. He explained that creating awareness about OFSP and educating grassroots populations and policy makers was also essential for successful policy outcomes.

Dr. Robert Ackatia-Armah, who is the Regional Nutritionist at CIP, added that policy makers in Rwanda did not consider OFSP a priority in their food-based approach in combating vitamin A deficiency, because a robust and well-funded supplementation program already existed. “We focused on creating a better understanding of the potential of OFSP as a locally grown, cost-effective and sustainable solution to fight vitamin A deficiency even if external funding dried out,” he said.

These advocacy messages resulted in the inclusion of sweetpotato in general in the bio-fortification initiative in the National Food and Nutrition Policy (NFNP) and National Food and Nutrition Strategic Plan (NFNSP). In addition, OFSP is now considered as a complementary food for growing children.

Contributing to regional nutrition strategies

The developments in Rwanda are indicative of a general trend towards increased support of nutrition interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014, African Heads of State recommitted to allocate 10% of their budgets to agriculture, and the revised African regional nutrition strategy now looks at both nutrition-centered and nutrition-sensitive interventions.

The Marketing, Processing and Utilization CoP is part of the 10-year Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative is (SPHI). It brings together professionals working on all levels of the sweetpotato value chain, as well as private sector players who are innovating processing and utilization of OFSP for commercial products. The ultimate goal is to increase consumption through product refinement using vitamin A- rich OFSP to reduce child malnutrition and improve smallholder incomes in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.


New Study Finds that Orange Sweet Potato Reduces Diarrhea in Children

Jun 15 2015   |   By: admin   |   0   |  

The OSP was conventionally bred to provide more vitamin A in the diet. In Africa, more than 40 percent of children aged under five are estimated to be at risk of vitamin A deficiency. This increases the risk of diseases such as diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of mortality in children, taking more than 350,000 lives of children under five in Africa every year.

Other studies have shown that vitamin A supplementation reduces diarrhea incidence in children, particularly those who are undernourished or suffering from severe infections. This newly published research is the first to show that an agricultural food-based approach can improve health in young children.

The study found a 42 percent reduction in the likelihood that children under the age of five who ate OSP within the past week would experience diarrhea. For children under three years of age who ate OSP, the likelihood of having diarrhea was reduced by more than half (52 percent). The OSP had an impact not only on reducing the incidence, but also the duration of diarrhea. For children who had diarrhea, eating OSP reduced the duration of the illness by more than 10 percent in children under five, and more than 25 percent in children aged under three. The children had all eaten OSP within the past week.

“The beta-carotene in OSP is converted into vitamin A the same day the OSP is eaten,” says Dr. Erick Boy, the Head of Nutrition at HarvestPlus, a global program to improve nutrition that funded the field research. “This vitamin A is used by the cells lining the gut to help form a barrier to invading germs. These cells are regenerated every few days, so cells that have been weakened due to lack of vitamin A are quickly replaced by healthy cells when there is enough vitamin A. It should be noted that access to clean water and sanitation, targeted immunization, and breastfeeding are also important in helping to prevent diarrhea.”

The study also found that there was greater impact in reducing diarrhea in children with educated mothers, who are likely better able to understand the health benefits of OSP, and also to change children's diets.

“Both vitamin A supplements and vitamin A-rich foods like orange sweet potato can provide sufficient vitamin A. From a public health perspective, they are complementary—neither alone is able to reach every child who needs vitamin A,” says Alan de Brauw, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “But vitamin A supplements can be expensive, as much as $2.71 per dose. Alleviating this deficiency worldwide through supplements alone would cost almost $3 billion per year. Using OSP to provide vitamin A is a fraction of that cost. Given the popularity of OSP—children especially love its taste—we think it’s a sustainable solution to improving nutrition and child health in many countries, complemented, of course, by supplementation where it is cost-effective.”

HarvestPlus’ principal donors are the UK Government; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the U.S. Government's Feed the Future initiative; the European Commission; and donors to the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, of which HarvestPlus is a part.

Press Release Journal Article

Using Agriculture to Improve Child Health: Promoting Orange Sweet Potatoes Reduces Diarrhea

More About HarvestPlus

HarvestPlus leads a global effort to improve vitamin and mineral nutrition and public health by developing and deploying staple food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals. We work with diverse partners in more than 40 countries. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by its 15 research centers in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations. The HarvestPlus program is coordinated by two of these centers: the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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Research Results: Orange Sweet Potato Reduces Diarrhea in Young Children
Farmers Speak: Orange Sweet Potato
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Community of Practice meets to discuss how to increase Sweetpotato Products in the African Market and Improve Nutrition

Jun 02 2015   |   By: christine-bukania   |   0   |  

The Community of Practice brings together professionals working on all levels of the sweetpotato value chain, as well as private sector players who are innovating processing and utilization of orange-fleshed sweetpotato for commercial products.

One of the participants, Lucas Mujuju is an entrepreneur in Chimoio region in Mozambique. His Zebra farm is diversifying from soymilk and yoghurt production to include sweetpotato juice and cookies whose ingredients are primarily soya and sweetpotato pulp. He was in Nairobi to share his experiences on getting started with commercializing sweetpotato products.

“In Chimoio, sweetpotato farmers had difficulties getting their sweetpotatoes to the market. Now, with our ability to process, they are sure that they have a ready market. We expect their incomes to improve, and because they grow the vitamin-A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato, they will also improve their health and nutrition,” he said.

In Rwanda, the Rwanda Superfoods company is a successful enterprise built on the foundation of sweetpotato, and produces biscuits, bread and doughnuts.. The company has steadily grown its customer base in Kigali and other towns. The Community of Practice enabled Lucas to learn a few things about marketing his products from Rwanda Superfoods.

From Homa Bay County in Kenya, a manager of an agro-processing company, Gabriel Oduor, reported that this company, Organi Ltd, has increased the volume of sweetpotatoes it orders from farmers, which are processed into puree for sale to other manufacturers in Kenya. “We started out in Homa Bay, but we are now buying orange-fleshed sweetpotato from as far away as Busia. Farmers are guaranteed a price of Ksh. 14 per kilo at predictable intervals, and we believe this will drive production and benefits higher,” he says.

Members also discussed issues related to storage of sweetpotato roots for shelf-life extension, models for integrating agriculture and nutrition into health service delivery and enhancing sweetpotato value chains to improve markets for farmers.

This Community of Practice meeting was held under the umbrella of the Africa-wide Sweetpotato Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI). SPHI is a 10-year initiative led by the International Potato Centre (CIP), and it is expected to improve the lives of 10 million households by 2020 in 17 target countries. Launched in 2009, the project had already reached over 1 million households by the end of December 2014. One of the key intervention areas is improving the sweetpotato value chain by researching and implementing actions that will remove bottlenecks related to processing, marketing and utilization of sweetpotato products. The overall objective continues to be to develop the essential capacities, products, and methods to reposition sweetpotato in food economies to alleviate poverty and under-nutrition in Africa. Speaking at the start of the event, Jan Low, the SPHI leader, called on participants to think of innovative ways to fast-track the achievement of the SPHI targets.

The activities of the Community of Practice are in line with the regional nutrition strategy being pursued by the African Union. There is a huge momentum towards agriculture and nutrition on the continent. 2014 was declared the Year for Agriculture and Nutrition in Africa, and African Heads of State have recommitted to dedicating 10 percent of their national budgets to improving Agriculture, taking nutrition into account.

For more information please contact: Jan Low: or Christine Bukania:


The Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative is (SPHI) is a 10 year, multi donor initiative that seeks to reduce child malnutrition and improve smallholder incomes through the effective production and expanded use of sweetpotato. It aims to build consumer awareness or sweetpotato’s nutritional benefits, diversify its use, and increase market opportunities, especially in expanding urban markets of Sub-Saharan Africa. The SPHI is expected to improve the lives of 10 million households by 2020 in 17 target countries.

The International Potato Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIP) is a research-for-development organization with a focus on potato, sweetpotato and Andean roots and tubers. CIP is dedicated to delivering sustainable science-based solutions to the pressing world issues of hunger, poverty, gender equity, climate change, and the preservation of our Earth’s fragile biodiversity and natural resources.

CIP is a member of the CGIAR Consortium, an international organization made up of 15 centers engaged in research for a food secure future. This global agriculture research partnership is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources, in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector.