By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The inclusion of Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) in wheat bread and school meals is boosting the nutritional status of children and could help Nigeria to reduce its imports of wheat drastically.
Developed by the International Potato Centre (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 and 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 meanwhile say that consuming OFSP can gives the body needed vitamins. CIP manager for the project, Dr. Erna Abidin, said “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”
OFSP roots have a nutritional advantage over white- or cream-fleshed sweet potato 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.
National Coordinator, Sweet potato program and Senior Agronomist at CIP Dr. Jude Njoku 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.