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Potato farmers seek support as bakers embrace OFSP puree

…urge government to make sweet potatoes a priority crop

Sweet potato farmers are calling on the federal government to support boosting local production of the root crop, as more bakers embrace the inclusion of Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) in wheat flour.

Nigeria’s master bakers are now embracing the adoption of bio-fortified OFSP in bread and other confectioneries to drive down their production cost, as prices of other inputs continue to surge. As a result, farmers are calling on the government to make sweet potatoes a priority crop as it did with rice and maize.

Jude Okafor, national secretary, Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria affirmed this while speaking on the decision to adopt OFSP puree. He said that at 20 percent inclusion of OFSP puree in wheat flour, the colour, texture, and taste of bread are very good.

Okafor stated that the substitution of OFSP puree in flour has helped bakers to marginally reduce the cost of production – per loaf in the latest analysis based on current prices of inputs and their substitutes.

‘‘Application of OFSP puree in wheat flour for bread reduces the usage of milk, sugar, and wheat flour,” he said.

“On every 50kg bag of wheat flour, 1.5kgs of sugar is saved, 10kgs of wheat flour is substituted with the puree, and N180 is saved on every kilogramme substituted. So, using 10kgs of OFSP puree with 40kgs of wheat flour reduces the cost of production by N1800, apart from reduction in the quantity of sugar used,’’ Okafor explained.

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He added that bread shelf life is elongated and 500grm of milk is saved per 50kg-bag of flour when 10kg puree is included.

He expressed optimism that the potential demand from master bakers would deepen production, calling on the CBN to incorporate sweet potato into the ABP scheme to maximise production since there are processors and off-takers of the bye-products.

On production of sweet potato, Nigerian arable land is suitable for production, and an average of 10 metric tons are produced per hectare.

Apart from the nutritional benefits of OFSP puree, which include beta-carotene and fiber, with high nutritional value in Vitamin-A for eye health, Vitamin B6 for healthy metabolism and nervous system, Vitamin-C for immune health, and Vitamin-D, which plays an important role in carrying out vital functions in the body system, its inclusion would reduce the country’s yearly wheat importation and conserve foreign reserves, as stakeholders and researchers have demonstrated.

It takes between three and four months for the potato to mature. Hence, sweet potatoes can be planted three times a year, especially if supported by irrigation facilities.

Without irrigation, two seasons of production are feasible in the North-Central, South-West, South-South, and South-East ecological zones.

Experts have said sweet potato puree is more competitive than cassava flour inclusion or full wheat flour usage in confectionaries.

Daniel Okafor, president of the Potato Farmers Association of Nigeria (POFAN) said in a statement that farmers were ready for a revolution of OFSP production if master bakers were ready to off-take its puree.

In the last 10 years, he said, the association had been advocating OFSP utilisation in bread baking based on various experiments ranging from 10 to 40 percent puree trials.

He described the decision of bakers to explore local content as a welcome development that would not only reduce their cost of production but also bring health benefits to consumers, wealth to farmers/processors, and forex conservation for the country.

Also, Jude Njoku, an agronomist and sweet potato production specialist explained that ‘‘if farmers can sell sweet potato easily to puree processors, poverty will be alleviated and standard of life will improve’’ as a result of the multiplier effect on the value chain players.

The OFSP was approved and released in Nigeria in 2012 as a crop with the potential to drastically reduce malnutrition based on its bio-fortification with Vitamins A and C, among others.

“There should be a synergy with potato farmers, bakers should empower farmers and off-take the produce because farmers have not been organised, as they were discouraged from producing it when there was a low embrace,’’ he said.

Similarly, Seun Bamigbade, business development manager with Sano Foods Limited, a major producer of OFSP puree, emphasised the need for government support to farmers through the ABP to enable a constant supply of OFSP.

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