Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) has been hailed as an innovation with a promising future. OFSP was thrust in the spotlight at the 7th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW7) and Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA) General Assembly, held in Kigali, Rwanda, between the 13th and 16th of June 2016. The AASW is the principal forum for all stakeholders in African agriculture Science. The theme of this year’s event was ‘apply science impact livelihoods.’
While opening the event, Rt. Hon. Anastase Murekezi, Prime Minister of Rwanda stressed that Africa must employ agricultural technology to increase land productivity while protecting the much needed natural resource base. Hon. Murekezi called for increased agribusiness investments adding that agriculture research needs to be taken seriously as it is critical to the sector that employs 65 percent of the continent’s population. During his speech, the premiere encouraged the continent to take up value addition in food production. He said that OFSP was one of the innovations that could be used to bolster sector growth and improve the livelihoods of people. The orange fleshed variety of sweet potato is high in beta-carotene (Vitamin A) and is very healthy, especially for children and pregnant women.
In his keynote address, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, reiterated the need for investment in science and technology to transform the agricultural sector in Africa, not just to manage rural poverty but also to create wealth.
“Today, Africa spends $35 billion on importing food. This is projected to grow to $110 billion by 2025. Africa is importing what it should be producing, creating poverty within Africa and exporting jobs outside of Africa. Scarce foreign exchange is used to buy food. Lacking ability to feed itself, Africa becomes vulnerable, dependent on market forces to feed its burgeoning population,” he said.
Adesina urged ministers of finance to consider agriculture as a commercial activity that requires comprehensive investments in rural infrastructure and market development and decried the tendency of looking at the agricultural sector as a social or development sector. “It is incomprehensible that a sector that accounts for up to 60 percent of the labour force in many African countries barely generates much in terms of revenue for governments,” he added.
Both Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi of Rwanda and President Adesina of the African Development Bank visited the SweetPotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) booth at the exhibition on Monday the 13th June 2016. As they sampled the OFSP products such as bread and crisps, which they really enjoyed, they stressed that there is a lot of potential in market development of the products.
Rwanda is known for its production of both Akarabo Golden Power Biscuits and OFSP fried doughnuts. The Sweetpotato Superfoods in Rwanda Project, part of CIP’s Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) Project, was launched in collaboration with local partners, including SINA Gerard Enterprises. With SINA, the project released the Akarabo Golden Power Biscuits in 2012. The Sweetpotato Superfoods in Rwanda Project falls under SASHA’s broader, 10-year, multi-donor Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI), which is expected to set the groundwork for improving the nutrition an incomes of 10 million Sub-Saharan households by 2020.
During a side event that was held between 13th and 14th June, Dr Tawanda Muzhingi, a Food Scientist at International Potato Center (CIP) talked about the impact of OFSP puree on the sub-Saharan baking industry. Dr. Jan Low, Principal Scientist & Co-leader of the SPHIat CIP spoke about the “MAMA SASHA Model” and how it can be used to strengthen agriculture-nutrition interventions through explicit linkages to the health system.
The AASW7 took place under the stewardship of the president of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Paul Kagame, and was attended by high profile individuals such as Human Resources, Science and Technology of the African Union Commission, H.E Dr Martial De Paul Ikounga, The Rt Hon Prime Minister of Rwanda Anastase Murekezi ,President Akinwumi Adesina of the African Development Bank, Dr. Geraldine Mukeshimana, Minister of Agriculture and Animals resources in Rwanda and European Union head of delegation in Rwanda Michael Ryan as the main guests.
The week-long event saw ministers, heads of diplomatic agencies, scientists and farmers among other African and international delegates receive a call for action on the agricultural science and innovation sector.