The inclusion of Orange Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) in wheat bread and school meals has led to the boost of the nutritional status of children and could help Nigeria to reduce its imports of wheat drastically.
Developed by the International Potato Center (abbreviated by Spanish acronym CIP) and partners, the OFSP varieties are rich in Vitamin A—a critical vitamin that is deficient in most diets in sub Saharan Africa, and remains a serious public health problem in Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso in West Africa. In Nigeria, one in three children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency (VAD)—which can lead to blindness and even death.
In the last three years, CIP has pioneered a three-year project in Osun and Kwara States of Nigeria. In Osun State, the project intervention entails inclusion of OFSP in school meals as part of efforts to improve the nutrition of children. The project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has also trained bakers on the inclusion of 40 percent OFSP puree (steamed OFSP) in wheat bread.
Mr Fatai Ganiyu, one of the trained bakers, said the inclusion of OFSP in bread has benefits including growing Nigeria’s economy and improving the health of children in schools.
“At the moment, I can’t meet the demand for OFSP-wheat bread. I supply the OFSP composite bread to 20 schools; part of the Oriade local government elementary schools. And the children love it,” he explained.
Wheat is among the top food imports into Nigeria with about 4.7 million tons being imported into the country according to government data.
Mr. Ganiyu said if more bakers adopted the technology, imports would be down significantly, saving the country scarce foreign exchange, but more importantly, creating jobs and better nutrition.
Researchers say that consuming OFSP can give the body needed vitamins.
“Results from a number of research has revealed that one small-to-medium boiled root (approximately 125g or 1⁄2 to 1 cup) of most OFSP varieties can supply the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for young children and non-breastfeeding women”, says Dr. Erna Abidin, from CIP and Manager for the project.
OFSP roots have a nutritional advantage over white- or cream-fleshed sweetpotato roots because they have beta-carotene, and therefore vitamin A content is higher as evidenced by the deep orange color of their flesh. Since cultivating OFSP on just 500 square meters can supply the needs of a family, farmers can still grow other crops to meet their diversified food needs at their household level.
Dr. Jude Njoku, National Coordinator, Sweetpotato program and Senior Agronomist at CIP said the project had introduced two OFSP varieties in Nigeria since 2012. “Farmers in Osun state are growing the Mothers Delight variety which is very high in beta-carotene. Its dry matter is low but school children love it since it is sweet and not too hard,” he added.
Working closely with the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) farmers now have access to improved varieties of OFSP vines. The OFSP planting materials are produced by a few smallholder farmers who have been trained on vine multiplication (also known as decentralized vine multipliers – DVMs). The DVMs then sell the vines to their neighbors for root production.
“We have worked closely with DVMs to ensure they produce good quality vines. We introduced the net tunnel technology so they produce and sell disease free planting material leading to high storage root yield,” said Mr. Ayodele Oladipo Akinpelu from NRCRI in Iresi.
Mr. Ademola Adepoju is one of 18 DVM’s in Oshogbo. From his 1.5-hectare farm in Ajebamidele village, Adepoju made 1.6Million Naira (USD 5,180) from the sale of OFSP vines which he planted in January 2017. “I have harvested my vines twice; in March and May. For root production, the Mothers Delight OFSP variety matures in only two and a half months while the local sweetpotato varieties take up to five months”, he says.
In 2016, six DVMs sold 12, 647 bundles of OFSP vine cuttings to 13 groups of storage root producers (284 farmers; 30% women). During the dry season of 2016, they grew 26.6 ha of OFSP in 12 Local Government Areas and sold 79.8 tons of OFSP roots to 17 schools, according to Souleimane Adekambi, a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist working for CIP on the project.
With the project coming to an end this May 2017, three types of markets have been developed around OFSP. First, is the school feeding program in Osun State. From a total of 8,157 pupils in 17 schools in mid-2015, the number of schools was scaled out to 186 by September 2016. To date, a total of over 41,216 students are fed weekly on OFSP from the O-Meals School Feeding Program. Second, bakery chains offer market opportunities for OFSP farmers. Mr. Ganiyu, the baker in Osun state buys a 60kg bag of OFSP roots every two weeks from Mrs. Foluke Okanlawon, who farms close to his bakery. Finally, the local market serves as an important alternative for mopping up excess production.
CIP and partners will continue working on OFSP, with the hope to scale out its many benefits to both the rural and urban community in sub-Saharan Africa.