By Martin Monari and Lilies Gachanja
In 2014, International Potato Center (CIP) established the The Food and Nutritional Evaluation Laboratory (FANEL) to develop shelf-storable orange-fleshed sweetpotato purée. The laboratory was set up to increase regional capacity to carry out food science and nutrition analysis. To increase regional capacity to carry out food science and nutrition analysis, CIP provided technical assistance to establish FANEL as a sustainable regional reference laboratory for assessment of nutritional quality, bioaccessibility of beta carotene (β-carotene), and safety of orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) roots and products.
In collaboration with Euro-Ingredients Limited (EIL), FANEL has been conducting research studies to explore the application of chemical and natural preservatives together with vacuum packaging, and their effect on the shelf storability of OFSP purée without refrigeration. The objectives of the studies are to (1) determine the β-carotene retention in OFSP purée over six months storage in vacuum pack plastic bags with and without preservatives; (2) determine the changes in reducing sugar content in OFSP purée over six months storage in vacuum pack plastics bags with or without preservatives; (3) determine the character and nature of microbial growth in OFSP purée over six months storage in vacuum plastic bags with or without preservatives and (4) determine the varietal effect on the on the β-carotene retention, reducing sugar content and microbial growth in the OFSP purée over six months of storage in vacuum pack plastic bags with or without preservatives.
In November 2016, FANEL embarked on bakers’ training exercises to train professional bakers on how to use OFSP purée in the baking process. Martin Monari, who works with the FANEL project, was enlisted to train different groups in the use of OFSP purée to bake. So far, the number of bakeries that have been trained is five. The first of these trainings was carried out at the Organi factory based in Ringa in Homabay County where members of staff, alongside interested farmers that reside close to the factory, were trained on how to bake using OFSP. Participants had the opportunity to try out different recipes while baking using OFSP purée and the training highlighted the nutritional benefits of OFSP.
During the training, the bakers were trained on all the aspects of baking from identifying the ingredients, weighing, mixing, portioning, molding, proofing baking and packaging the products for distribution. The machines and equipment in the factory were also identified and safety operation illustrated to the bakers. Organ Factory was given first priority in training because there was a need to build confidence in the farmers that the value addition activity can start at the village level, and give the farmers the chance to produce and consume products from the roots they farm. Organi is the only factory in Kenya that processes OFSP purée for baking, and has been a supplier of purée to Tuskys supermarket to produce their baked products. Training Organi staff members on baking using OFSP purée has helped diversify the activities in the factory from just processing purée. This has also provided a source of additional revenue to the factory.
For a long time, the OFSP purée bakery products were only available at Tuskys in Nairobi alone. With the factory now participating in the production of OFSP based products, local farmers, who have been impressed with the training sessions, now have the opportunity to buy finished products from the factory.
Through this training, the factory has expanded production capacity from 20 pieces of 400 grams OFSP bread to 400 pieces of bread per day. The bread is sold locally at the markets surrounding the factory. These markets include Oyugis, Ringa, Miruka, Sondu, Ramba and Misambi. With the availability of the OFSP bread and other products in the market within close proximity to the factory, the residents of Ringa area now have a chance to obtain cheaper bread from the OFSP roots they supply to the factory. This bread, besides being rich in vitamin A, is cheaper by fifteen shillings than the regular bread which is sold locally. This has, to a large extent, made the bread more popular than competing brands.