Generating income and combatting Vitamin A deficiency… the case of scaling up Orange-fleshed sweet potato locally
Pilot efforts to develop markets for orange-fleshed sweet-potato (OFSP) to generate income and help combat vitamin A deficiency in Ghana is accelerating.
Dr. Ted Carey, who works for the International Potato Center as the regional sweetpotato breeder and Ghana country manager based in Kumasi at the CSIR Crop Research Institute, said the variety was introduced in 2005, but without much promotion, the variety is not as patronised as expected; hence the pilot project called ‘Jumpstarting Orange-Fleshed Sweet potato in West Africa through Diversified Markets” which seeks to stimulate demand for OFSP through market-led innovations.
He notes that micro nutrient deficiency is a serious public health problem in Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. OFSP can significantly reduce vitamin A deficiency (VAD) among vulnerable populations, particularly young children and lactating mothers.
Dr. Carey noted that while sweetpotato is well-known, and often commercially important crop in West Africa, OFSP varieties are not widely available. And since the nutritional value of OFSP is not widely recognized, therefore it is not yet sought after by consumers and marketers, he added.
Speaking to the B&FT during a media site visit to the Volta Region, Dr. Carey said it is therefore pointless for the CSIR Crop Research Institute top release more varieties until such time that demand for OFSP is reasonably high.
The trip’s first stop was at Sogakofe where the team had the opportunity at first hand, to visit Vekon Bakery, run by Veronica Konu and she employs golden sweet potato by partially substituting wheat flour with puree made from OFSP, which is an exciting growth item for her bakery business which employs around 150 women.
Veronica Konu’s bread is well-patronised at a roadside market where inter-city buses stop, and she is in the process of expanding her bakery business with a newly constructed three-storey complex that even provides temporary accommodation for her employees and was visited by the team.
At the bakery, Mr. Emmanuel Darkey, an entrepreneur and chairman of the Ghana Sweetpotato Innovation Platform with vast experience in the vegetable export business, and also an exporter of OFSP, told the media team that Madam Konu was introduced to sweetpotato to bake bread by himself and the researchers some years ago, but she initially refused.
She is one of the success stories of stimulating OFSP consumption through her bread and other pastries and she indicated that the demand is on the rise with hoteliers like Hotel Cisneros and schools patronising her bread.
She observed that previously her children visited the hospital regularly but since she employed the OFSP puree in her bread, they are all healthy. She bakes with five (50 kg) bags per day and employs 500 kilos of sweetpotato puree and the ratio used is 1:3. She sells the loaves for GH¢3, GH¢2.50 and GH¢5.00. She even attested that she used to wear glasses when baking because of the heat but she now doesn’t wear them anymore due to the benefit of consuming the sweet potato.
The team then proceeded to Abor in the Akatsi District where they interacted with Mr. Dorsese, a reliable supplier of both vines and roots as growing material and an early adopter of OFSP, and the team witnessed how the business has improved life for himself and his family.
Among the by-products we witnessed is a honey since bees patronise the vine during flowering, pasteries and fufu, a local dish using cassava and plantain. He roofed his house with Domod roofing sheets and had a satellite dish hanging on the roof. The team visited a farm to observe at first hand the production process. Prior to adopting OFSP, Dorsese was a maize and cassava farmer. He said the only challenge with planting OFSP is weevil attack and too much rain. To combat this he continuously covers the ridges when it’s fruiting and the potatoes are planted on elevated ridges.
Emmanuel Darkey exports OFSP to Holland, France and England and dispelled the fact that because it is sweet, it’s bad for men but rather said it was an aphrodisiac, he added. It can be employed in bread, gari, biscuits and the leaves are good for palaver sauce and even juice.
Dr. Carey said in Nigeria, in Osun State, over 200 schools employ OFSP in the school feeding programme and Kofi Annan is the most high profile personality who is championing the product in Ghana together with his wife Nani. He said the vines takes between 90 to 120 days to harvest.
The International Potato Center is known by its Spanish acronym CIP and CIP is a member of the CGIAR Consortuim, an international organization made up of 15 centers engaged in research for a food secure future.