Rwandan youth can finally exploit opportunities in orange-fleshed sweet potato value addition and breeding, following the launch of BioInnovate Africa, a three-year project that aims at turning the potato into a cash crop.
Tawanda Muzhingi, the Regional Food Scientist at the International Potato Centre (CIP), said on Friday that they have been promoting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes because they are rich in pro-vitamin A content.
He was speaking at the launch of the $750,000 project in Kigali.
He said that East African countries, Rwanda included, import most of the wheat, yet, if they made bread from sweet potato puree, they could substitute 50% of the wheat.
He added that this could be a huge saving.
One of the best ways to ensure that there is a sustainable adoption of the orange-fleshed sweet potato is to do some value addition so that when farmers grow this nutritious crop, they can continue growing it, but there has to be some money attached with, Muzhingi said.
The project will work with the government, breeders from the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), and the Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) to make sure that the products being made comply with the law to protect consumers and help them get the nutrition they are supposed to get from sweet potato.
The project intends to work with the private food companies, so that they can start to see orange-fleshed sweet potato as an ingredient in their manufacturing processes to provide new products that use orange-fleshed sweet potato that are safe, nutritious and income-generating.
Value addition will create job opportunities for the youth and women as well as farmers.
This project is going to demonstrate that when people are going to grow orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, they can eat them for their nutrition or sell them and get money.
Shira Mukiibi, the Business Development Manager for BioInnovate Africa Program, said that the project supports scientists and innovators as well as entrepreneurs and policy makers to translate their research into value added products so as to reach different countries within Eastern Africa.
“This project is one of the projects that have been supported through Bio-Innovate Africa, as part of our mandate to support innovation in the region. We are going to upscale the orange-fleshed sweet potato puree for bakery applications in East Africa,” she said.
This project is actually going to add value in that area in terms of adding beta-carotene into the food system especially for agro-processing, but also in terms of completing the potato value chain.
“We have had challenges with farmers saying that they don’t have demand for their sweet potatoes. This is an opportunity for them to be able to have markets for their sweet potato foods. In terms of completing the value chain, this is now an opportunity on the commercial side for the farmers but also on the processing part,” she noted.
Within Eastern Africa, all the countries are focusing on moving towards middle-income countries and one of the ways it can be done is through manufacturing and agro-processing.
Currently, BioInnovate Africa is operating in 6 countries namely: Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.