CLOSE to10 million Ugandans do not have enough food to meet their basic daily energy needs. Another estimated 17 million suffer from different nutritional deficiencies because they lack the money to buy foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and poultry.
This exposes them to diseases, premature death and impaired growth because their diets lack essential nutrients like vitamin A, iodine and zinc. To address this problem, HarvestPlus decided to help sweet potato farmers in Uganda to add value to their produce.
HarvestPlus is a global alliance of research institutions and implementing agencies that work together to breed and avail to farmers high yield crops for better nutrition. In Uganda, it is coordinated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
We used Soroti Sweet Potato Producers Association (SOSPPA) to implement the project. We used SOSPPA because they have been growing sweet potatoes for the last three decades. They have the land, experience and labour.
SOSPPA has now started producing sweet potatoes rich in Vitamin A. HarvestPlus focuses on staple food crops consumed by most of the worldâ€™s poor living in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The target crops in Africa are beans with iron, cassava with vitamin A, maize with vitamin A and sweet potato with vitamin A. Apart from being rich in nutrients, the vitamin A rich sweet potatoes are also instrumental in generating funds for the rural women. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is drought and disease resistant. The sweet potato comes in four varieties; Ejumula, Kakamega, Vita and Kabody.
Farmers used to be cheated by middle-men. Sweet potato prices had drastically dropped due to a sweet potatoes glut in the market. The only solution to help farmers earn more was by adding value to the sweet potatoes.
A bag of potatoes costs between sh3,000 to sh5,000 during peak seasons. Today, sweet potato farmers can earn up to sh80,000 from a bag of the improved sweet potatoes. With eight bags of the new sweet potato variety grown on an acre of land, a farmer can harvest over 30 bags if the yields are good.
SOSPPA have added value to the sweet potatoes by making sweet potato powder that is used to bake biscuits, bread, cakes, cookies and sweet potato porridge.
They are currently supplying the flour to Riham biscuits and Britania Allied Industries. They also produce sweet potato juice and sweet potato flour which is used to make chapatti.
SOSPPA currently produces over 10,000 tonnes of sweet potato flour a week, with hope of generating even more.
Why breed for nutrition?
In Uganda, many people are malnourished and are at risk of disease, blindnes, stunted growth and other illness due to malnutrition.
Hunger and poverty in Uganda are closely linked. According to recent statistics, at least 15% of Ugandaâ€™s population (eight million) is hungry while over 65% live on less than a dollar a day.
Most poor Ugandans rely on diets consisting largely of micronutrient-poor staple foods. HarvestPlus seeks to improve nutrition by breeding new varieties of staple food crops that are rich in missing critical micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and iron.
Lack of vitamin A impairs growth among children and increases the risk of childhood infections such as diarrhoea. It can also lead to eye damage and cause blindness.
Lack of zinc leads to increased risk to diseases such as pneumonia and stunting among children. Lack of iron leads to anaemia, especially among pregnant women. Severe anaemia increases the risk of mortality in women during childbirth.
HarvestPlus has so far trained over 10,000 farmers in Kamuli, Bukedea, Mukono, Soroti and Wakiso districts. The current efforts to combat micronutrient malnutrition in the developing world focuses on providing vitamin and mineral-rich supplements for pregnant women and young children with fortifying foods through post-harvest processing.
Bio fortification is a new development in agriculture and a tool for improving human health. The introduction of bio-fortified crops will complement existing nutrition interventions and provide a sustainable and low cost way of reaching people with poor access to formal markets or health care systems.
The bio-fortification approach is backed by sound science. The research originally funded by the Danish International Development Assistance and coordinated by IFPRI examined the feasibility of a plant breeding approach for improving the micronutrient content of staple crops.
Sylvia Magezi is the Demand Creation Specialist at HarvestPlus