Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Orange fleshed sweet potato’s battle for acceptability

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
08 May 2022   |   4:08 am
The introduction of the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) into the country in 2015 was, among other things, meant to boost the nutritional status of children, and to also help reduce the country’s import of wheat drastically.

Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato

Dissemination Of Research Results A Challenge —NRCRI

The introduction of the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) into the country in 2015 was, among other things, meant to boost the nutritional status of children, and to also help reduce the country’s import 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 Nigeria, where one in three children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which can lead to blindness and even death.

Apart from its nutritional benefits, it improves eyesight, and also good for diabetics. In addition to it being economical; its leaves can be used for manufacturing of drinks, and for bread production, a development that would lessen the reliance on wheat.

One distinct feature of the crop is that it can be eaten raw once peeled, as it looks and tastes exactly like carrot.

Reports from a number of researches reveal 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.

According to the Project Manager of the scheme, Dr. Erna Abidin, 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 colour of their flesh.

In 2015, the CIP pioneered a three-year project in Osun and Kwara states. In Osun State, the project intervention, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation entails the inclusion of OFSP in school meals as part of efforts to improve the nutrition of children. Bakers were also trained on the inclusion of 40 per cent OFSP puree (steamed OFSP) in wheat bread.

But despite its health, economic and nutritional benefits, the OFSP has not enjoyed wide acceptance like the traditional potato varieties, which are permanent menu in many households in the country.

The Guardian learnt that apart from Osun and Kwara states, Abia State joined the train in 2018, followed by Jigawa, Yobe and Nassarawa through the Building Nutritious Food Baskets Project, and the Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) initiative, which ended in 2019.

Unconfirmed report has it that the variety is also cultivated in Abeokuta, Ogun State and in parts of Oyo State.

Considering the benefits embedded in the crop and its economic potential, the CIP had expected that through its introduction into the country, three types of markets would have been developed around OFSP. First, the school feeding programme in Osun State. Second, bakery chains were expected to offer market opportunities for OFSP farmers, while the local market, which ought to serve as an important alternative for mopping up excess production completed the cycle.

One of the factors identified for the near-disappearance of the produce in the market is the failure of the school feeding programme, which brought an abrupt end to its adoption in some states, especially Osun, where it was part of menu for the school feeding initiative. Another factor is the challenge of acceptance.

One of the farmers, Mr. Ademola Adepoju, who operates from Ajebamidele Village, Osogbo, lamented that only a few farmers are currently into the cultivation of the OFSP because there is no market for it, adding that some of his colleagues have completely stopped its cultivation.

As at 2017, Adepoju, one of the 18 DVMs in Osogbo, who cultivated over 1.5 hectares of farmland, made N1.6m from the sale of the OFSP vines, which he planted in January 2017.

He said: “People don’t buy it because they don’t have interest in it due to the fact that it’s different from the local variety. They prefer the local variety to OFSP despite the advantages and nutritional benefits. As a result of this, our colleagues are not showing interest in its cultivation anymore because it doesn’t bring them quick money.

“Aside its nutritional advantages, its maturity period is faster than the local variety. For root production, the Mothers Delight variety of OFSP matures in only two and a half months, while the local sweetpotato varieties take up to five months to mature. The farmers are focusing now on the cultivation of the local variety since it sells fast.

“The variety is good for fish and poultry feed production. I have since ventured into other crops because there is no market for it. The little I am doing is for feeds production.”

Adepoju said that since former Governor Rauf Aregbesola left office, the patronage reduced drastically, adding that currently, the patronage is very poor “because the school feeding programme had stopped. We have tried everything to get the current administration to develop enough interest, and also to embrace the programme, but it simply is not willing to continue with the programmes initiated by the previous administration.”

The Head of Outstation, National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Iresi, Osun State Solomon Afuape, who attributed the problem to the effect of the gap between research and extension, identified funding, inactivity of Agriculture Development Programme (ADP) across states, and the nature of entrepreneur, who hardly drive agro products as the major problems.

“The Federal Government has done a good job of funding the development of these varieties. Then, we got them released. But after the release, you need money to also popularise it. One thing that we don’t do in Nigerian research is putting a lot of money into the dissemination of research results.

“The white man understands that he’s going to make money when the research result get to the end-users, but when we talk about the way things are structured here, the Federal Government will sponsor the development of technology, then the state, through the ADP should disseminate those things to the end-users, but we all know that the ADPs are dead in Nigeria, only a few of them are functional. They are there, but they don’t have the money to work, that’s what is creating the lacuna. So, it is that gap between the research and extension that you are seeing the effect of,” he said.

Afuape revealed that the Federal Government is trying its best to ensure that the crop gets the desired acceptance, noting that last year, the government bought 48, 000 bundles and distributed to four northern states that experienced flooding, as part of palliatives.

He said: “When he was Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, also tried to popularise it; we were to have about three years funding to cover about one-third of the country, but immediately after the 2015 general elections, everything stopped. The present government has been trying to popularise it among farmers too, and has even gone to geo-political zones to bring farmers together on how to cultivate it.

“Even though some processors know about it, but we can only have the best of it when every home is consuming it like noodles; like staple foods. We need a lot of funding for that, to happen; we need advertorials to drive it and let the people know the benefits of the crop. If we have funding for promotion and sensitisation, we would have been able to popularise it in homes.

“We took it to Osun State for the school feeding programme, that’s what promotion can do. Even in Benue State now, it’s a big crop there, the same thing in Nassarawa, Kaduna and Oyo states. There’s a company in Ogun State that plants up to 100 hectares of the crop and even processes it. It is moving, but you cannot see it on the shelf in the market. One major advantage of the crop is that the more you consume it, the less time you spend in the hospital.