August 15, 2018

TAAT seeks an end to malnutrition in Africa with Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato

Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato varieties in Kigali (PHOTO: TAAT/OFSP)

By Donata Kiiza

Micronutrient malnutrition is characterized by chronic deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) such as vitamin A, iron and zinc. The symptoms are usually not visible hence it is referred to as the hidden hunger.

In Rwanda, 38% of preschool aged children  are deficient in vitamin A, while 36% of children under five years are stunted. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is considered a major public health problem that requires appropriate nutrition interventions.

VAD causes morbidity, poor cognitive development, nutritional blindness, reduced immunity, and in some cases, death in children especially under the age of five years and poor productivity in adults.

Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in Rwanda is Zero Hunger. This goal aims at ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

It is therefore important that Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative came at a time that Rwanda is seeking to transform the ways of farming from subsistence into commercial farming – with farmers growing crops not just for home consumption but for both the local and foreign markets.

In the light of this, the African Development Bank through the TAAT programme launched the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP ) Compact in Rwanda on the 14th of August 2018. The launch had in attendance, representatives of the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), Farmer unions, cooperatives, researchers, civil society and the media.

Hosted by the International Potato Center (CIP) in collaboration with other partners, the compact seeks to implement its three-year programme in 12 African countries namely Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameron, DR Congo, Uganda Kenya, and Rwanda.

Others are Tanzania Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

The TAAT OFSP Compact aspires to increase productivity and production of OFSP among smallholder and large-scale farmers; improved incomes from roots and processed OFSP-based products along the value chain; and create awareness about the nutritional benefits and the availability of OFSP fresh roots and processed products.

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP)  is a special type of biofortified sweet potato that contains high levels of beta-carotene. Beta-Carotene is an organic, red-orange pigment abundant in plants and fruits. Beta-carotene is what gives OFSP an orange color and is converted to Vitamin A in the body after consumption to provide additional nutritional benefits.

Biofortification enhances the nutritional value of staple food crops by increasing the density of vitamins and minerals in a crop through either conventional plant breeding, agronomic practices or biotechnology. Examples of these vitamins and minerals that can be increased through biofortification include provitamin A Carotenoids, zinc and iron.

According to Daniel Mbogo, the compact’s Technology Transfer Officer, TAAT will be working with commercial farmers or household farmers who grow orange-fleshed sweet potato and other sweet potato varieties for income and food security.

“TAAT will also support activities that are for enhancing OFSP value addition especially at small scale level. We will also help small businesses who want to do some value addition to OFSP processing like road side sellers doing crisps and chips, hoteliers and restaurants who want to incorporate OFSP to their daily menus, small bakeries in terms of equipment for operation for puree, crisps and chips,” he added.

Although OFSP has become a familiar crop for most Rwandans, there is still a linkage gap between root producers and vine multipliers as well as processors. Therefore, Mbogo further explained that during the implementation of this initiative, efforts will also be put into market linkages through linking farmers/root producers to processors and training of processors to do products from OFSP.

“In Rwanda, malnutrition still stands at 38% whereas iron deficiency stands at 17% in children and 27% in women, said Augustine Musoni, the representative of the Deputy Director General at RAB during his opening speech.

Musoni continued to explain that although these percentages look to be low, but they are intolerable in the country.

“By 2050, Rwanda aims to eliminate iron deficiency and malnutrition and therefore RAB as the government implementing organ in the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI), we are pledging to work hand in hand with different Research institutions and the Agricultural sector to achieve this,” he added.

He welcomed the TAAT initiative as he thanked the African Development Bank for supporting yet another time, the agricultural sector.

Group photo of participants at the launch in Kigali (PHOTO: TAAT/OFSP)

Amandine Umukesha, the AFDB representative who was present during the launch in her remarks mentioned that the bank is happy to be part of the initiative.

She said, “For the bank we recognize that African people have been getting food from other countries while many populations live by agricultural proceeds. Let’s look through our capabilities to transform agriculture from what I can call a low profession to high technology for African people to feed themselves and go beyond Africa and feed other continents.”

 Through this initiative, Umukesha believes that farmers will be able to produce different kinds of technologies to produce more and generate incomes leading to the development of the country but also develop themselves, eliminate massive importation of food and be proud to sustain themselves.