Tag Archives: nutrition

Nutritious foods and added value for health and wealth

“It starts with the person who wants to eat affordable, safe, nutritious food,” says Simon Heck, the Mozambique-based sweetpotato project leader for the International Potato Center and the leader of RTB’s Flagship Project 4 on Nutritious Food and Added Value. “The urban consumer will [represent] the majority [of consumers] soon, and we must focus on how they” – along with the smallholders raising and selling the crops – “attain the benefits of roots, tubers and bananas.”

With that vision in mind, this flagship has an important focus on promoting utilization and uptake of biofortified crops – those bred for maximum nutrients – such as orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), cassava, potato and potentially banana and yam too.

Levels of beta carotene in both OFSP and cassava – which the body converts to Vitamin A – is an area of special interest considering its role in the health and development of young children. Lacking sufficient Vitamin A, tens of millions of children in developing countries suffer from stunted growth which limits mental development, as well as premature death and blindness.

Children under five years of age eating OFSP. Photo credit: HKI

While work to enhance OFSP is well underway in RTB, other biofortification efforts show a great deal of promise. Among them: boosting iron and zinc levels in Irish potato and breeding cassava that (like OFSP) contains higher levels of beta carotene. While “cassava doesn’t respond as quickly” as OFSP does, Heck notes, it’s just as critical a crop to smallholders in certain regions.

To that end, geography and economics figure into which crops warrant biofortification research within FP4. “You might say, well, OFSP is much richer in beta carotene than cassava – but cassava can grow in places where nothing else grows,” Heck notes. Indeed OFSP can contain more concentrated levels of beta carotene, “but it’s limited in terms of its distribution.” Potato may be able to modified to contain more zinc, but the higher costs of raising potato may limit the benefit that nutritional boost can have.

Approaches to promoting biofortification in one crop can be deployed in the service of another, Heck says. “You build on what has been achieved,” he says. “It’s one of the values of how RTB approaches this work: in our platform, we can exchange scientific methods to accelerate progress across [multiple] crops. We owe it to the farmers [growing crops] and to the children [consuming them] to make full use of what each of us knows.”

For all crops, the effectiveness of crop processing and storage methods will affect smallholders’ outcomes and consumers’ health, too. The best varieties and harvesting techniques mean little if half the crops are lost due to spoilage or pests, so FP4 is looking closely at best practices in these areas as well. Methods ranging from pureeing OFSP for distribution in vacuum packed bags, to processing zinc-rich potato into flour, to storing harvested crops underground or at ambient temperatures to better support their preservation may be suitable, depending on a region’s climate, topography, financial stability, electrical grid health and other factors, Heck says.

FP4 is also paying close attention to improving the efficiency and reducing the energy and environmental footprint of cassava processing. Great strides have been made to understand how the higher efficiency of large scale cassava processing plants in Asia could be replicated at a much smaller scale in Africa and Latin America, opening up an important space for south-south learning.

Cassava starch processing in Vietnam. Photo N.Palmer/CIAT

In its clusters, FP4 must also pay heed to gender roles that may have long dictated tasks around growing and selling crops.

“Two domains that are often separate in many countries come together [under the auspices of FP4],” Heck says. “Men’s domain roles tend to be perceived to be around agriculture, while those of women are perceived to be around caregiving and feeding. Now, a lot of our assumptions seem to imply that somehow a benefit generated in one sphere will translate into benefits in another sphere, but we know it is not that easy.” The question becomes: “How do we involve both men and women in both spheres?”

Remember: a lot of OFSP, for example, is actually grown by women, Heck notes. By the same token, “we want to involve men in childcare, nutrition, materials extension and activities.” While gender-based roles are certainly bound by tradition, “they are never written in stone.” Working with more organizations that already have credibility in checking these assumptions is key to breaking down gender-based barriers.

Loading OFSP on a bike in Western Kenya. Photo credit: HKI

In addition to working with organizations that can help examine gender-based assumptions, FP4 will develop partnerships with local health clinics and government agencies services. These organizations are often ideally placed to enable consumers to understand the healthful benefits of RTB through programs such as:

  • Teaching adults how to prepare these foods, processed or not
  • Working with pregnant women and mothers to help them learn about the role Vitamin A and other micronutrients play in the health of the developing fetus, infant and child
  • Measuring health outcomes within a given community over time

FP4 is largely about “overcoming barriers of acceptance of crops,” Heck concludes. “One good thing about the biofortification strategy is that the crops you are biofortifying are ones that already exist, that are accepted [in the region]. People already know how to cultivate them; they’re already part of people’s recommended diets. We can tap into the capacity that is already there” – and, partnering with Flagship 5 on ‘Improved livelihoods at scale’ and others, scale up efforts to amplify biofortification’s potential to boost crop nutrition, hardiness and stability in a changing, hungry world.

This is the second in a series of blogs showcasing the new Flagship Projects of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. The next edition will examine Flagship 3 on ‘Resilient Crops‘. By Amy Rogers Nazarov

Nutritious orange-fleshed sweetpotato snack can reduce waste, increase incomes

The 10th Triennial African Potato Association Conference (October 9 – 13, 2016) brought together over 200 researchers, development practitioners, policy makers and more to exchange knowledge and experiences from their work with potato and sweetpotato – including young African scientists and innovative farmers who received scholarships to attend the event.

Through its sponsorship of the conference, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) was proud to award scholarships to seven promising African scientists including Dr. Rachel Omodamiro from the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) of Nigeria, who presented her work on the topic of ‘Optimization of preparation of pro-vitamin A rich snack made with orange-fleshed sweetpotato, okara and maize flours by simplex centroid design’.

“As a research scientist attached to a Product Development Programme in my home institution, NRCRI in Umudike, Nigeria, I made a pro-vitamin A rich beverage from orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) and I had some waste as by-product from this. So I went further and researched how to utilize the waste meal so as to fully utilize the OFSP,” explains Rachel.

Rachel (center front) presents her findings during the APA conference

Rachel (center front) presents her findings during a session of the APA conference. Photo H.Holmes/RTB

Rachel and her team took the waste flour from the OFSP beverage processing and combined this with okara, another flour that is the by-product of soy milk production, and white maize meal. The optimum ratio of the flours was established, then mixed and extruded using a single screw extruder at a constant temperature of 80°C, resulting in a nutritious ready-to-eat snack.

The chemical composition of the snack was evaluated to determine its nutritional content, finding that it had a total carotene retention of 94.95% based on the total carotenoid content of the OFSP waste meal.

The final product was then presented to a 20-member panel for sensory testing for traits including taste, texture and aroma – receiving a rating of 8.17 on a 9-point Hedonic scale.

Based on the product’s high rating and nutritional value, Rachel is optimistic that it could play a key role in helping to reduce vitamin-A deficiency, particularly among children. In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness, disease and premature death among children under five years of age.

The extruded OFSP snack. Photo courtesy R.Odonomiro

The extruded OFSP snack. Photo courtesy R.Odonamiro

“Snack eating is an integral part of the human diet that cuts across all ages, so the intended market for this product is everyone and especially children. A healthy snack such as this pro-vitamin A rich product will be more applicable to children as they need nutrients for their growth and development,” says Rachel, who explained that alongside vitamin A, the snack includes important minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

It could also help to provide a source of income for both small- and commercial-scale OFSP processors in Nigeria, and reduce environmental waste through its use of by-products.

“The research is a great innovative novel finding in that it utilizes edible agro wastes that could pose environmental challenges, and provides value addition to OFSP and soy milk production,” says Rachel.

“I hope to complete patency procedure of the research findings and then link up with more commercial enterprises for mass production to maximize the utilization of OFSP and contribute to the fight against vitamin-A deficiency. My institute is engaged in training rural populace on root crops value-addition. I hope to be able to conduct research on the use of a locally fabricated extruder and produce a training leaflet that could be used to train youth and rural small-scale food processors,” she adds.

Along with providing an opportunity to share her research findings with the scientific community, the conference was also a platform to seek potential funding to help bring her product to the wider population through consumer acceptance tests and packaging development.

OFSP can be processed in to a variety of products, including OFSP beverages. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

OFSP can be processed in to a variety of foods, including OFSP beverages as shown here. Photo S.Quinn/CIP

“The most valuable part of attending the APA conference for me was the ability to present my research findings, which was well appreciated by my audience, as well as opportunity to meet with other research scientists, which increased my network,” she notes.

Rachel’s work aligns strongly with RTB’s Flagship Project 4 (FP4) on ‘Nutritious RTB Foods and Value Added Through Post-Harvest Innovation’, which aims to support the fuller, equitable, and sustainable utilization of root, tuber and banana crops for healthier diets and improved income opportunities.

“This is just the kind of work FP4 wants to support as we look for ways to open up OFSP as a nutritious food to a broader urban market and add value. Developing and promoting healthier alternatives to existing snack foods is an important part of this, especially when accompanied by consumer education on healthier diets. We believe that this can build sustainable market demand for nutritious RTB crops like OFSP among young urban consumers,” says Dr. Simon Heck, Flagship Project Leader for FP4 and Program Leader with the International Potato Center.

For more information on the research reported in this article, please contact: majekrachel@gmail.com

What the success of orange-fleshed sweetpotato can teach us

By Graham Thiele, Program Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas

This has been a big year for RTB’s lead center, the International Potato Center (CIP), with three of the center’s scientists winning the World Food Prize (WFP) for their work on the biofortification and scaling of vitamin A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP), while also celebrating its 45th anniversary year.

I recently joined a lively panel discussion with the WFP laureates – Maria Andrade, Jan Low and Robert Mwanga – during an event to commemorate these achievements in Lima, Peru, where CIP headquarters are located.

During the conversation I shared three key lessons that stood out to me from this important work on OFSP and a reflection on how advocacy in Peru to change the perception of potatoes is relevant for addressing food and nutrition security in Africa.

Lesson 1: Food based approaches to addressing hidden hunger work!
A key component underpinning the success of OFSP to address vitamin A deficiency was that researchers paid very close attention to building an evidence base that it worked. This began by showing the impacts on nutrition that OFSP was having at a local level. Another key element that was stressed during our panel discussion was paying very careful attention to scaling and making sure that the right partners were on board at each stage.

Here in Peru and the Andes the most important hidden hunger we are facing is iron and zinc deficiency. This is also very debilitating for those affected and its quite prevalent in highland communities. CIP and many other partners have already begun exciting and promising work utilizing potato to address this hidden hunger. Potato has reasonable levels of iron and zinc, and some varieties have especially high levels. Through breeding we can further increase those levels, just as was done for Vitamin A with sweetpotato. Of course the more nutrient dense potato would need to enter into family diets and there would be a strong nutrition education dimension to this. But just as with OFSP, if we want to make this a success we need to pay careful attention to getting the evidence of nutritional efficacy and have a strong strategy for scaling. Actually the evidence of impact generates momentum and can build the investment case for scaling.

Women show six different varieties of cooked OFSP. Photo: CIP

Women in Malawi show six different varieties of cooked OFSP. Photo: CIP

Lesson 2: Food based approaches empower women!
By working with OFSP which is locally produced, women are empowered to take control over their nutrition and health and that of their babies and young children. Women themselves pay a central role in accessing vines, growing and harvesting the roots and preparing OFSP food. So this is the equivalent of teaching women to grow their own Vitamin A pills.  However, we also learned that only engaging women doesn’t work. Men play a key role in decision making and access to resources, and need to be involved too. For example, it may be a challenge for a heavily pregnant woman to collect vines for planting or prepare land, so their spouse needs to be on board as well. So empowering women with OFSP really means being sensitive to many gender issues.


Women are empowered to take control over their health and that of their children. Photo: CIP

Lesson 3: Extraordinary results mean extraordinary people and these need extraordinary organizations!
The experience of introducing OFSP and getting impact at scale is a highly complex innovation. It required a series of technical challenges such as breeding to improve dry matter content of OFSP varieties adapted to Africa, engaging the nutrition community to provide the key education messages needed for uptake, but also convincing donors and bringing in many partners across a multitude of countries. This whole process took nearly 20 years!

Jan, Maria and Robert are innovation champions who pushed this though in the face of many difficulties. Jan mentioned that she took this proposal for in initial proof-of-concept research in Mozambique to 21 different donors before she found one who was prepared to fund an integrated agriculture-nutrition proposal. Jan and Maria were even described as ‘the crazy sweetpotato ladies’ for pushing so single mindedly what seemed like an improbable vision.

So the extraordinary results we have heard about required three extraordinary people. Yet this wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t worked in an organization with an incredible team which had the vision and flexibility to support this.

CIP Director General, Barbara Wells, welcome guests to the celebration event in Lima.

CIP Director General, Barbara Wells, welcome guests to the celebration event in Lima. Photo: CIP

Reflection: the advocacy work in Peru to change the positioning of potatoes is very relevant for OFSP and other food based approaches in Africa
One amazing achievement in Peru over the past decade, of which we are immensely proud, has been to dramatically raise the profile of the potato and its consumption. This built on work by CIP, the National Innovation Institute, the Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Nutritional Research, NGOs, chefs, gastronomy schools, supermarkets, processors and farmer organizations. It began by re positioning native potatoes as part of Peru’s cultural and gastronomic heritage, as well as a delicious ingredient with chefs. This spilled over to a more general shift in perceptions leading to the designation of a National Potato Day which is celebrated every year.

There are lessons from this for Africa about how to reposition sweetpotato and other root crops for urban consumers. These are often perceived as the poor man’s or women’s food suitable for villages but left behind as people move to cities. The experience of Peru shows that it’s possible to reposition these as nutritional and delicious functional foods for urban populations. This should lead us to a two-way exploration and joint construction of options among colleagues in Africa with those in Peru and the Andes for promoting healthier diets based around sweetpotato and potato.