Nigerian schools adopt sweet potato to boost nutrition

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato in school meals to improve nutrition
Copyright: Flickr/V. Atakos /CIP-SSA

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  • One in three Nigerian children suffer from vitamin A deficiency
  • Authorities are using new sweet potato variety to fight the menace in children
  • More than 41,216 school children are now consuming it weekly

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[ABUJA, NIGERIA] The school feeding programme of Nigeria is using orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) ̶ Mothers delight ̶to help fight vitamin A deficiency in children.
The production of OFSP was the result of research collaboration between the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), Nigeria and the Peru-headquartered International Potatoes Centre (CIP).
Vitamin A is critical but deficient in most diets in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, one in three children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which accounts for the increasing under-five mortality nationally, says Michael Okonkwo, a nutritionist with the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria.

“One small-to-medium boiled root of most OFSP varieties can supply the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for young children.”

Erna Abidin, CIP


Olubunmi Ayoola, programme officer of the Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme, told SciDev.Net last month (17 May) during a meeting to showcase the importance of OFSP in school feeding programmes that about 41,216 students in Osun state are now fed weekly on the vitamin A-enriched potato.
Edward Carey, CIP regional sweet potato breeder based in Ghana, says scientists at NRCRI and CIP conducted on-farm and nationally coordinated research projects that were completed in 2012, leading to the national release of three proven genotypes – two Orange-Fleshed Potatoes (Mothers Delight and KingJ) and one white fleshed.

He adds that the hybrid varieties were officially released for dissemination later in 2013 in Nigerian states such as Benue, Cross Rivers, Enugu and Osun.
In a statement by CGIAR last month (18 May), Erna Abidin, manager of CIP’s Jumpstarting OFSP project in West Africa, explains: “Results from research revealed that one small-to-medium boiled root of most OFSP varieties can supply the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for young children and non-breastfeeding women.”
OFSP roots, according to the researchers, have a nutritional advantage over white- or cream-fleshed sweet potato roots because they have beta-carotene, and therefore their vitamin A content is higher. Cultivating OFSP on just 500 square meters of land can supply the needs of a family.

Jude Njoku, national coordinator of the sweet potato program and a senior agronomist at CIP, adds: “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.”
Ayoola indicates that the Osun state adopted OFSP initially for17 schools in 2015 as the mandatory meal every Wednesday for primary school pupils, and has since September 2016 been using OFSP as meals for 186 schools.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.