Micro nutrient deficiency is a serious public health problem in many developing countries, the International Potato Center (CIP) has started a project to diversify the use of sweet potatoes to potentially reduce the amount of people affected by such deficiencies in the long term.
Scaling Up Sweet Potato Through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) is a project where bio-fortified, vitamin A rich Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) varieties are used to reduce vitamin A deficiency (VAD) among children under five years of age, which are at the most risk of it - the deficiency increases the chance of infections and blindness.
“OFSP is a cost-effective and vitamin A rich substitute to wheat flour and can be used to replace up to 43 per cent of the more costly grain in manufactured products,” explains the CIP.
By 2020 SUSTAIN wants to reach 1.2 million households with children under the age of five in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Rwanda through the use of innovations in agriculture, nutrition, utilisation and marketing to increase the consumption of OFSP.
“When we are having problems with micro-nutrient then we have other types of sweet potato like the orange flesh sweet potato which is rich in Keratin, a precursor of vitamin A, when you eat orange flesh sweet potato you are able to get better keratin in your body,” said Kirimi Sindi, Country Manager at CIP.
The center has to convince the private sector to use something like the OFSP to in baking products, firstly because the private sector cannot be sure it works and secondly they try to minimise the risk and they don’t want to lose money.
“We go to a private sector, we look at their conditions, we look at how they do their manufacturing process, we look at the ingredients they use and then using the knowledge we have, then we are able then to incorporate orange flesh sweet potato,” said Sindi.
According to Sindi, one of the challenges it faces when incorporating OFSP is that some dry it up and make it into flour, with a wheat-like finish which makes it easier to use, however that is very expensive in Africa compared to places like China.
Another challenge is the struggle to encourage gender equality because of social constructs and the dynamics in the home.
“In most cases men usually own most of the resources - like in your developing countries. So if you have to bring in anything which is going to bring more income to that home, then the man is going to be more interested in doing it and more men are going to get into it and then hedge out the women.”