CIP’s efforts to increase consumption of orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) – and thereby reduce the incidence of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) – includes the promotion of baked or fried products made with OFSP purée. Those nutritious products not only contain significant levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, they are generating greater demand for sweetpotato roots, thereby improving the incomes and diets of thousands of smallholder farmers.
Dr. Tawanda Muzhingi, a CIP regional food scientist and nutritional biochemist based in Nairobi, Kenya, explained that the principal goal of promoting the use of OFSP purée by bakeries is to catalyze new value chains for the crop, in order to get more farmers growing and more rural families eating those nutritious roots. Research has shown that consuming OFSP reduces VAD, which causes blindness, stunting and other ailments in young children and mothers across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). CIP promotes OFSP to pregnant and lactating mothers in Kenya through prenatal health programs, and provides farmers with planting material and nutrition education, yet not are willing to plant OFSP, because some prefer more traditional crops.
“If a crop can be consumed at home and sold for income, the likelihood of adoption is higher,” observed Tawanda.
The relatively short shelf life of sweetpotato roots means that farmers need to sell them quickly, which creates harvest season gluts that depress their market value. Tawanda and colleagues have thus tested options for extending roots’ shelf life. The most promising option is the transformation of OFSP roots into a purée, which retains high beta-carotene levels and – if mixed with preservatives – can be stored in vacuum-packed bags without refrigeration for up to three months. Bakeries can substitute the purée for 45 percent of the flour used to make dough, reducing their production costs by decreasing the need for sugar and imported wheat.
CIP provided technical assistance to the company Organi Ltd, which set up an OFSP processing plant in Homa Bay County, in Western Kenya, that purchases 20 tons of OFSP roots per month from about 3,000 smallholder farmers to produce purée. While Organi uses some of that purée to produce OFSP bread for the local market, most of it is sold to Tuskys, Kenya’s biggest supermarket chain, which bakes about 3,000 loaves of OFSP bread and a comparable amount of OFSP buns each day for sale in 23 stores.
OFSP bread is gaining popularity in Nairobi, which is good news for Organi’s staff and suppliers, many of who are women. Organi pays farmers twice the market rate for roots, to ensure a supply of quality OFSP. CIP and partners used a value chain approach and provided agronomic training for those farmers and the decentralized vine multipliers who sell them planting material, to facilitate increased production.
One of those farmers, Olga Otieno, explained that she began growing OFSP three years ago for food security, income and as a source of vitamin A. The money she earns selling roots to Organi Ltd now covers her children’s school fees, among other household expenses. As demand for OFSP baked products grows, more farmers like Otieno will benefit from the market it creates.
Tawanda explained that CIP provided technical assistance to Tuskys for the development of OFSP baked products in 2015, and did in-store research on consumer acceptance and willingness to pay. The consumer response was positive, but Tuskys’ management decided to roll our OFSP baked goods gradually, out of concern that demand might exceed their ability to produce them. This decision proved sound when a drought hit East Africa the following year, significantly reducing sweetpotato harvests. As the rains returned in 2017, OFSP production rebounded and Tuskys was able to increase the number of stores that sell the bread, though less than half of the 56 Tuskys supermarkets currently offer those products.
In June of 2017, CIP began training bakers at Naivas, Kenya’s second biggest supermarket chain, in preparation for the sale of OFSP bread products in five stores. A second company has begun producing OFSP purée in Kenya, creating new employment opportunities for women and youth, and companies in Tanzania and Malawi are also developing OFSP products. Tawanda observed that rapid urbanization in Africa is creating potential markets for OFSP bread that entrepreneurs can capitalize on. He added that CIP’s OFSP puree technology will facilitate this process.
“There is now organic growth that is driven by small and medium enterprises that want to make money from agriculture, without a lot of support from donor-funded projects, which makes me very excited,” Muzhingi said.