“I’m always very excited to work with sweetpotato because you can look at its nutrient strength and tap into that strength to develop products for all age groups, from the young to the old,” says Prof. Ibok Oduro, the head of the Department Food Science and Technology at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana.
The post-harvest technologist specializes in processing. After attaining her Phd from the United Kingdom in 1995, she joined KNUST in 1996, where she has concentrated her work on processing of roots and tuber crops. Sweetpotato is one of them.
Her foray into sweetpotato processing started in 1998, when she was working with the Roots and Tubers program. “I remember they were pushing cassava, but I decided to start working on sweetpotato with my students. We made baking products, organized trade fairs, and developed a flour called RTIP,” Oduro says. “One of the things I started with was making gari and yoghurt from sweetpotato. We called the yoghurt Potaghurt.”
For a long time, Oduro had worked with the Crops Research Institute (CRI), to characterize crops and evaluate leaf samples in the laboratory. Among her clients was a businessman who used sweetpotato as a cover for his cashew crop. While evaluating the starch property of his crop, she asked him to bring in the sweetpotato leaves he was using.” From that time, she also started working on sweetpotato leaves.
Oduro, whose work is markedly diverse, does not only supervise sweetpotato work. She recalls that her first Phd student, who is now a lecturer, did her research on yam and later on joined a project that was initiated by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). She explains that most of the PhD students join the program to develop products that are in line with their jobs.
“Post-harvest is a broad field that you can apply simple, common techniques to come up with different products that are unique to the crops you’re working on,” she says, adding that her work with sweetpotato is particularly enjoyable. “Sweetpotato is a versatile crop. You can do so many things with it. You can use every part of it”.
Oduro, who says she’s always enjoyed mixing things and seeing them transform, is imparting this love of product development to young researchers in Ghana. Having joined KNUST when there was no PhD program, she would have about 10 MSc and BSc students attached to her at any one time. Now, her department supervises many PhD graduates and her efforts to promote sweetpotato have continued to grow.
Oduro spearheads first TOT Course on ‘Everything you need to Know about Sweetpotato’ in Ghana
For the first time, the ToT course on ‘Everything you need to Know about Sweetpotato’ was held in Ghana in February 2016.
People from as far as Ethiopia, Sudan and Peru applied. 33 participants, including a team of five people from Nigeria, and one participant from Liberia attended. In Ghana, participants came from Northern region, Upper region, Volta region and Greater Accra.
Oduro, who says that this first edition of the course was a walk of faith, says the team worked hard and diligently to make it a success in spite of initial funding challenges. Their efforts seem to have paid off. To evaluate the effectiveness of the course, the facilitators conducted pre- and post-training tests. The result showed that there was a 54% improvement in the level of knowledge.
Information on sweetpotato is now set to be taken to even more people. 24 participants signed an action plan to show their commitment to train other people. They plan to address topics such as access to vines, difficulties in marketing and inadequate knowledge of processing and nutritional value of OFSP.
Following the success of the first course, the next ToT course is already being planned for the end of July 2016. In order to make the course sustainable, she urges more people to pay and attend the course, which she describes as one of the best that someone can attend.
“You’ll get an open mind about OFSP. You’ll interact with others, and clear any misconceptions you might have about sweetpotato and OFSP. It will build your capacity and confidence to become an advocate for sweetpotato wherever you go,” she says.
For more information about the KNUST and the ToT course: visit http://foodscience.knust.edu.gh/events/general/everything-you-need-to-know-about-sweetpotato
You can also learn more about Oduro’s work here.