I Love Sweetpotato

“Our theme at this 6th Sweetpotato for Profit & Health Initiative (SPHI) meeting is Together – 10 million by 2020. And now you know why. No one organization can do this alone. It is not only going to take a village. It is going to take this coalition of committed practitioners and scientists to make it happen.” Dr Barbara Wells, Director General of the International Potato Center at the opening ceremony of the I Love Sweetpotato exhibition

The beautiful rolling hills of Kigali are today taking second place to the dazzle of orange that greets guests as they enter Hotel Villa Portofino in downtown Kigali. Orange is everywhere….orange tents are being decorated with balloons and streamers; brightly colored Kitenge cloth from across Africa decorates the tables and chairs; and men and women dressed head to toe in orange are keeping busy putting the final touches on their display.

Why orange you might ask? Well these folk are all here today for one reason, and one reason only. To celebrate orange-fleshed sweetpotato! The words “Nkunda Ibijumba” (I Love Sweetpotato) is the tag line for the event where over 150 sweetpotato aficionados are celebrating all things sweetpotato. They are here to highlight the role that the orange-fleshed types of this crop can play in improving nutrition, livelihoods and food security in communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato is the catch cry of the day and everyone is in a festive mood as they share ideas about how this bio-fortified crop is changing lives . There are 29 booths on display at the event – most highlighting their own unique way of utilizing OFSP to improve livelihoods and create new commercial opportunities for sweetpotato. The exhibition proves to be an opportune time to share ideas, resources and strategies for bringing sweetpotato to a wider market in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

The booths offer a dazzling array of ideas about how orange-fleshed sweetpotato can contribute to reducing childhood malnutrition and improving farmer livelihoods.

At the exhibition a wide range of organizations were represented demonstrating the truly versatile nature of this crop. There were displays from the International Potato Centers’ (CIP) work in countries across Africa including: Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Uganda and Mozambique. Mozambique had its latest 9 varieties of OFSP ready for release on display. Also represented were country-based organizations who are revolutionizing the way orange-fleshed sweetpotato is incorporated into traditional foods, like Injera made from OFSP in Ethiopia and how they are being brought to the commercial market. Euro Ingredients – a company pioneering new ways to utilize sweetpotato – was very popular, as they demonstrated equipment for making sweetpotato purée and served delicious sweetpotato milkshakes to visitors.

As you visited each of the booths you had the feeling that most people were not just wearing orange and talking sweetpotato for the day. But rather that they live and breathe this – that they passionately believe that improving child malnutrition and improving farmer livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa is a vital issue and that orange-fleshed sweetpotato has a powerful role to play. And that there are tremendous opportunities for diversifying the use of sweetpotato for animal feed and as an ingredient in a wide range of processed products.

The exhibition included entertainment from local Rwandan dance and drumming troupes. The I Love Sweetpotato booth competition was held with participants competing fiercely for the title of best booth. The International Potato Center in Ethiopia took out first place followed by CIP in Rwanda in second place and IMBARAGA Farmers Association in Rwanda in third place. It was a tight competition with each team bringing their absolute best to the occasion.

“At CIP we have a special commitment to the development and promotion of disease-resistant orange-fleshed sweetpotato, that is very rich in pro-vitamin A. Rates of vitamin A deficiency are very high in sub Saharan Africa and research in Mozambique, Uganda and South Africa has clearly shown that by using an integrated approach of providing OFSP alongside effective nutrition education of both men and women caring for the child, vitamin A intakes increases substantially and the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency is reduced.” Reflections from Dr Barbara Wells, Director General of the International Potato Center during the exhibition opening ceremony.

Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, the Executive Director for the Forum for Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA) and one of the co-leaders of the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) officially closed the exhibition and celebrated the ambitious aim of the initiative: “FARA seeks to forge and promote alliances, collaborations, and partnership with African and international stakeholders to mobilize capacity for implementation of agreed actions and commitments based on innovation systems paradigm as the organizing principle. The SPHI is an example of such an alliance. The SPHI is promoting the building of an effective community of practice at country, sub-regional and even regional levels”

“We all understand that there is a hungry world waiting for the decisions to be reached by the SPHI Steering Committee. Such is the gravity of the responsibility vested on us. It is my hope and aspiration that we will be a force to be reckoned with. Make yourself heard, make your voice count and together we will tame this mammoth called hunger and poverty.” In his closing words Dr Akinbamijo Executive Director of FARA captured the urgency of the situation

The Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) is a 10 year multi-partner, multi-donor initiative that seeks to reduce child malnutrition and improve smallholder incomes through the effective production and diversified use of sweetpotato. The first five year phase (2010-2014) concentrated on Proving the Potential, building up the supply of adapted varieties and testing models of delivery of improved varieties to producers and consumers. The second five-year phase (2015-2019) focuses on Achieving the Potential, ensuring that effective “seed” systems are delivering improved planting material to 10 million sub-Saharan African households.

The International Potato Center 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.