Sweet potato project improves nutrition and incomes

Baby eats Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato
Copyright: International Potato Center

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  • A three-year project has improved sweet potato varieties in West Africa
  • The project combats vitamin A deficiency and boosts yields and incomes
  • But an expert says a major challenge being addressed is post-harvest losses

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[ACCRA] Farmers and entrepreneurs in West Africa are benefiting from a project that offers improved sweet potato varieties and market access.
The US$4 million project that began in April 2014 and ended last month (March 2017) was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria.  

“Post-harvest experts and food scientists are working with us to develop [new orange fleshed sweet potato] varieties.”

Ernest Baafi, Crops Research Institute, CSIR, Ghana

The other partners include Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles in Burkina Faso, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)–Crops Research Institute in Ghana, and the National Root Crops Research Institute, Nigeria.
The project called Jumpstarting Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato in West Africa through Diversified Markets aimed to establish commercial sweet potato seed systems to provide clean planting materials throughout the year, and develop formal and informal markets for the varieties through participation of farmers in the value chain.
The development and commercialisation of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes would help tackle micro nutrients deficiency, according to the International Potato Center (CIP), the lead organisation of the project, during a field visit to project sites in Ghana on 7 February.
Erna Abidin, the project manager, says the project used approaches such as structured markets and school feeding programmes to develop markets for improved sweet potato varieties to help generate income. The project is helping combat vitamin A deficiency in the focus countries, he adds.
Julius Dorsese, a Ghanaian farmer, states that selling of the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) vines on an acre of land fetches him 6,000 Ghana cedis (about US$1,400), while 64-kilogram bag of sweet potatoes earns him about US$14.
Ernest Baafi, a plant breeder at Crops Research Institute of CSIR in Ghana, tells SciDev.Net: "Post-harvest experts and food scientists are working with us to develop [new orange fleshed sweet potato] varieties."

Ted Carey, CIP regional sweet potato breeder and Ghana country manager, says that the CIP collaborates with research institutes to develop new varieties of OFSP with characteristics that are appealing to farmers.
"The emphasis is now developing low-sugar content types of OFSP combined with high quality to boost yields," he tells SciDev.Net.
Emmanuel Darkey, chairman of Ghana Sweetpotato Innovation Platform, says post-harvest losses is a major challenge, but researchers are helping farmers to address the issue.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.