Government launches bio-fortified Orange-Fleshed sweet potatoes

by | Apr 15, 2021 | Business, Local News | 0 comments

Brian Rungano Temba

Government has launched the Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) programme today in Harare in an effort to diversify the national food basket and add a nutritious substitute to the staple maize grain.

The bio-fortified variant to the commonly grown white-fleshed sweet potato is a carotene and Vitamin A naturally enriched potato that was launched to be a part of the nation’s staple diet joining the iron enriched beans and orange maize that are already being grown in eight provinces in Zimbabwe and sold in local seed outlets.

Speaking at the launch, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Permanent Secretary, Dr John Basera said the OFSP is a welcomed development that will help Zimbabwe attain its Strategic Development Goal (SDG) of Food and Nutrient Security under the National Development Strategy – Phase 1 (NDS-1).

“If we get agriculture right we get everything else right in the economy. The moment we import food like potatoes and rice we also export jobs.

“Let us create jobs and build the Zimbabwean Economy, remember in Economics it is not really about exporting food abroad but producing enough to feed the people of your country,” said Perm Sec Dr. Basera.

He also invited the private sector to join in the value addition of the OFSP as the purée of the sweet potatoes can be added to flour dough and bake bread saving about 50 per cent of flour and 100 per cent of sugar normally used in the process.

Perm Sec Dr Basera said that as soon as the research and development team has confirmed without a doubt that they can produce the required input for 200 000 households to start growing the OFSP variant then the ministry will add a fourth plot of OFSP to Pfumvudza.

He also challenged the developers to research means to close the gap between research plot yield and the actual farm yield.

“The actual farm yield is the one that pays the bills for the farmers,” Dr Basera added.

He mentioned that Zimbabwe also has Environmental Change adaptation as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and with pestilence and climate change we must resort to more resilient foods.

“We are competing with animals for the same maize so we need to increase production of alternatives to the staples like cassava and sweet potato as an adaptation technique,” said Dr Basera.

On the market, a kilogram of sweet potatoes is going for USD 0.4 and farmers have given testimonies of growing OFSP as being very profitable. A farmer will require 37 037 cuttings to plant OFSP on a hectare of land and they can expect a minimum of 12 tonnes per hectare.

OFSP is expected to cushion the economy as Zimbabwe loses USD$ 24 million in GDP to malnutrition every year. A total of 12 000 households in rural Zimbabwe have been trained in growing more bio-fortified crops such as the OFSP, Iron enriched beans, vitamin A rich orange maize and zinc rich millet.

Eunice Mambimbi is a mother and farmer has been farming bio-fortified crops since 2016 and when she grew her orange maize in 2019 she sold a tonne of it and managed to buy two cows and six goats for herself. She says not only has farming empowered her as a woman but has brought sustenance to her and her family.

“As a means to create a market for my harvest I made an arrangement with the administration at a local school that I would prepare lunch for their children for three days.

“After I stopped, parents started contacting me saying their children had enjoyed the beans and wanted to buy them,” said Mambimbi.
Mambimbi also said iron and zinc rich beans which she grew has helped children in her community gain better nutritional balance.

At least one out of five children in Zimbabwe is Vitamin A deficient, leading to infant mortality. Child bearing mothers also suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

Another young farmer who made a testimony at the Launch was Desire Sibanda. His wife gave birth to their son at 4,2kg. The child is eight months old but showing better growth and teeth development than other children of his age. He owes it all to OFSP which his wife consumed during her pregnancy.

“I have gained financial independence through growing the OFSP and I can take care of my family better.

“ The other time I sold my potatoes at USD$8 a tin and came home with USD$400, although I made a loss of two tins of potatoes. Clients wanted to taste the potatoes first before buying them and since I came back with no potatoes I am sure they liked them,” said Sibanda.

OFSP growing was introduced to the farmers by Agritex officers, international Potato Company, Livelihood and Food Security Program, Department of Research and Specialist Services.
In the research that was held from 2019 to 2020 six OFSP varieties were brought into Zimbabwe from Mozambique and two local white fleshed variants were added to the experiment.
A total of 1 763 local farmers were tasked to grow them first in demo plots and then on actual farm fields. Though results were in favour of the locally grown German II and Chingova White fleshed sweet potato varieties, the OSFP variety that passed with flying colours in terms of early maturity, drought resistance, weevil tolerance, and taste was the Alisha variety.

Harvest Plus Regional Director, Donald Mavindidze said the development of the OSFP was purely natural and just like the carrot once was white the sweet potato and mealie-meal of the future might be orange. The common white fleshed sweet potato is mostly starch which causes obesity, OSFP comes with carotene and Vitamin A which helps boost the immune, betters night vision and foetal development.

“OSFP can be used to make bread, cakes, potato chips and many other dishes, a whole cooking book has been developed off these bio-fortified foods. They are the affordable alternative to pharmaceutical nutrient supplements that come in pill form,” he added.