By Christine Bukania and Francis Kweku Amagloh
In spite of the proven positive economic and nutritional attributes of the orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) in sub-Saharan Africa, its uptake in industrial scale food production still remains low. 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.
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.