Sweetpotato puree made for baked goods is helping Africa to reduce its reliance on wheat amid global food crisis

More investment is needed for Africa to diversify beyond the Big Three cereals to strengthen food systems, according to the International Potato Center (CIP).

September 5, 2022, Kigali, RWANDA – A growing market for sweetpotato puree that can replace up to 50 per cent of wheat flour in baked goods is bolstering African food security as the global grain shortage continues.

The puree, made from orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) and naturally rich in vitamin A, can be used as a healthy ingredient in Africa’s expanding bakery industry with an estimated demand of 17 million sweetpotato loaves a year in Kenya alone.

OFSP, developed and piloted by researchers at CGIAR’s International Potato Center (CIP) together with partners in both public and private sectors, has reached almost seven million households in Africa and South Asia. When processed, OFSP puree is both healthier than wheat and provides income to small-scale producers across the continent. The ongoing food crises, extreme weather events and other shocks present an opportunity for OFSP puree demand to grow as a nutritious alternative to replace wheat in widely consumed local products.

OFSP was first bred to contain increased levels of beta-carotene to help reduce vitamin A deficiency, which is the leading cause of childhood blindness in Africa. Diversifying OFSP use from household consumption to the food industry is a step towards scaling up benefits to larger populations including in Africa’s growing cities.

“Commercial processing of OFSP into puree as a nutritious ingredient in the bakery sector has taken off in several African countries since 2019,” said Simon Heck, program director at CIP.

“This novel product sells at a premium of 10 per cent in the market as compared to regular wheat bread, reflecting consumer demand for healthier options. In the long run, we also look to develop affordable puree-based products for low-income consumers, who are most vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency.”

Researchers are preparing to release a shelf-stable version of the puree in Kenya that can last for longer without refrigeration. This breakthrough innovation will enable the addition of valuable nutrients to school meals and weaning foods.

Processing sweetpotato into puree helps farmers to reduce post-harvest losses of sweetpotato roots while also improving household incomes for sweetpotato farmers, especially women.

More than 5,000 jobs have already been created through the African Development Bank’s Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) sweetpotato initiative, including seed producers and those making products like chapati cakes. The value of additional production in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, and Mozambique alone reached US$ 11.5 million within two to three years.

“Sweetpotato puree processing is a perfect example of how investing in under-utilized, perishable and seasonally available crops can unlock multiple benefits,” said Joyce Maru, Senior Program Coordinator at CIP.

“At present, food systems are heavily dependent on rice, maize and wheat, yet other nutritious staple crops like sweetpotato and potato offer enormous potential to diversify diets, production and incomes, and reduce exposure to shocks like the current food crisis.”

For more information, contact:

Vivian Atakos,
Outreach Manager,
International Potato Center (CIP)
Tel: +254 720 924 757

About CIP:

The International Potato Center (CIP) was founded in 1971 as a research-for-development organization with a focus on potato, sweetpotato and Andean roots and tubers. It delivers innovative science-based solutions to enhance access to affordable nutritious food, foster inclusive sustainable business and employment growth, and drive the climate resilience of root and tuber agri-food systems. Headquartered in Lima, Peru, CIP has a research presence in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. www.cipotato.org

CIP is a CGIAR research center, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. CGIAR science is dedicated to transforming food, land and water systems in a climate crisis. Its research is carried out by 13 CGIAR Centers/Alliances in close collaboration with hundreds of partners, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, development organizations and the private sector. www.cgiar.org