On August 15 2016, Mrs. Nane Lagergren and her husband, Kofi Annan spent a day learning about and advocating for the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) in Ghana’s Volta Region.
The visit, organized by CIP’s Ghana office, included stops at a bakery which produces Golden Bread from vitamin-A-rich orange-fleshed (golden) sweetpotato, a luncheon featuring a smorgasbord of Ghanaian sweetpotato dishes, and a large community gathering with cultural and culinary demonstrations, regalia, and lots of orange. The Annans were accompanied from start to finish by special guests, Hon. Abla Dzifa Gomashie, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, and by Dr. Jan Low CIP’s Principal Scientist and co-winner of the 2016 World Food Prize.
This was the third golden sweetpotato education and advocacy visit by the Annans since they (led by Mrs. Annan) embraced the potential of this crop to combat malnutrition and contribute to economic opportunities in the agricultural sector. Previous visits were in March and August of 2015 with partner consultation at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Crops Research Institute in Kumasi, and advocacy at the CSIR-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute, near Tamale. These visits have helped to significantly enhance awareness of and demand for golden sweetpotato in Ghana, and brought together a coalition of partners working to achieve the potential of sweetpotato to contribute to improving health and wealth. The visit to the Volta Region allowed the Annans to learn of progress of golden sweetpotato efforts in Ghana, while seeing progress in one of Ghana’s major sweetpotato production regions.
Sampling golden sweetpotato products in Sogakofe
At Sogakofe, the Annans visited both the Vekon bakery and roadside market, where Veronica Konu, has built a business mainly serving passing travelers who stop briefly at their roadside outlet. The bakery’s 6 traditional, wood-fired ovens work all day every day as over 100 employees, more than 75% women, bake and sell the popular white “sugar” and “butter” breads popular in Ghana. The visitors saw the process of Golden Bread preparation, with almost half of the wheat flour substituted with puree made from locally grown sweetpotato. At the roadside market, the bread sold out even before the visitors arrived, but all were able to enjoy Golden Bread rolls at the next stop on the tour – lunch.
The luncheon at the Villa Cisneros Hotel on the banks of the Volta river, featured 10 different golden sweetpotato dishes and drinks, including root and root juices, leaf and root salads, koliko (fried sweetpotato), golden bread rolls, mpotompoto (mashed spiced sweetpotato), spiced-baked, baked, boiled, sweetpotato chicken stew, and fresh tilapia, accompanied by rice, or akple (maize). The nutritious feast was an eye-opener for many of the guests who included government dignitaries, partners already working on sweetpotato, and, Veronica Konu and her husband, Ernest. The hotel proprietress pledged to add golden sweetpotato dishes to their regular menu.
The afternoon community meeting (durbar) at the Catholic Community Park at Abor was next. A crowd of at least 600 awaited the Annans in a festive setting. Tents and chairs had been set up around an open space, and a very high dais, equipped with comfortable chairs, was set up at the head of the space for the guests of honor and speakers. The local paramount chief, and other chiefs and their retinues, decked out in full regalia awaited the guests on one side of the space, the catholic fathers and faithful occupied the foot, and sweetpotato products and a table prepared for a televised cooking demonstration were set up on the other side.
The program consisted of brief speeches, interspersed with traditional dancing and drumming, and tasting of food by Mrs. Annan and the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts. Speakers included the Municipal Chief Executive of Keta (the district capital), the national chairman of the Ghana Sweetpotato Innovation Platform, the Member of Parliament for the District, the Director of the Ghana Agricultural Sector Investment Program (representing the Ministry of Food and Agriculture), Jan Low of CIP, AGRA’s country manager in Ghana, a scientist from the Crops Research Institute representing CSIR, and the head of the Nutrition Department of the Ghana Health Service.
fter the tasting of golden mpotompoto by the guests, prepared by Ghana’s Most Beautiful Woman (2012), remarks were given by H.E. Kofi Annan and the Chief of Abor. Speeches recognized the potential of golden sweetpotato to contribute substantially to combating vitamin A deficiency in Ghana, while also contributing to the creation of rural and urban livelihoods through income generation and job creation. Commitments by the Ministry of Agriculture to include sweetpotato among the priority crops, by the Ghana Health Service to continue with efforts to promote the consumption of the crop within their counselling materials, and by local authorities and government representatives were most encouraging. In his remarks, Kofi Annan, emphasized the need and opportunities for generating youth employment opportunities through agricultural enterprises, and the need for Africa to feed itself, and to generate wealth while doing so.
The golden sweetpotato message is spreading far and wide
This message was bound to reach even more members of the public, as it was covered five newspapers, three TV stations, three online media outlets, and a film crew from the National Film and Television Institute sponsored by a local media firm to make a documentary on the golden sweetpotato effort.
Highlight of the follow up from the event included an immediate quadrupling of daily production of golden bread at the Vekon Bakery, and an increase in sales of sweetpotato planting materials by the lead multiplier at Abor. The Deputy Minister of Tourism honored Mrs. Konu with invitations to events for her achievements to be recognized, and also pledged to include sweetpotato in upcoming cultural events, including creating a sweetpotato cooking competition during women’s days at the annual traditional yam celebration at Ho and other traditional events.
The day’s event was organized under the auspices of Jumpstarting Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato in West Africa through Diversified Markets, a project which has pilot activities in Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, and which is helping to devise strategies for scaling out efforts in order to meet our targets in the next few years in each country. Efforts of this project in Ghana include a) introduction of OFSP into the meals of the Ghana School Feeding Program, b) inclusion of OFSP in the ante-natal and infant and young child feeding (IYCF) programs of the Ghana Health Service, and c) commercial promotion of sweetpotato value chains for fresh markets and processed products (such as bread).