Sweet potato flour offers new prospects for agro-industry

Potato products at an exhibition stand at Kigali Marriott Hotel yesterday. In caloric terms, Sweet potatoes contribute to 21.6 % of the total national requirements. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Processing sweet potato into flour has proven to be one of the means to diversify bakery products, prevent post-harvest losses and provide farmers with a ready market for their produce, players in the potato value chain have said.

They were speaking on Monday, during the 11th African Potato Association (APA) conference being held in Kigali.

It has brought together about 200 participants including researchers, development patners, policy-makers and entrepreneurs drawn from over 20 countries. 

Sweet potatoes, especially the orange variety, are rich in energy, vitamins, calcium and iron among other nutrients which are needed for improving nutrition.  

Revellers visit stands during 11th triennial African Potato Association (APA) conference Exhibition Week being held in Kigali on August 26, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera

Dr Maria Andrade, 2016 World Food Prize Laureate, and sweet potato breeder at the International Potato Centre, said that there is tremendous opportunity for the processed and healthy orange sweet potato products brought about by urbanisation in Africa, where 50 per cent of population will be living in urban areas by 2030.

“So we need to diversify our sweet potato use which is right now unknown,” she said.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is spending $4.1 billion on wheat imports [annually]. This is a huge amount of money. But our proposal is to substitute wheat flour with orange sweet potato flour,” she said.

Local businesses such as Kigali-based CARL Group, an agribusiness company created by four young graduates and Entreprise Urwibutso, an agro-processing firm based in Rulindo District, have started tapping into the sweet potato flour potential to make biscuits and bread, which is supplementing wheat flour in bakery.

Gérard Sina, the owner of Entreprise Urwibutso, said that they already use sweet potato flour to make biscuit and bread.

Different potato products on display at the 11th triennial African Potato Association (APA) conference exhibition in Kigali on August 26, 2019. Potato and sweet potato cover respectively 3.9% and 5.2% of the total cultivated area. Statistics of the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda indicate that the per capita consumption is 125kg for potato and 145 kg for sweet potato per year. Emmanuel Kwizera.

“Currently, we are making biscuits and bread from sweet potato, and we export some of them to the European market. But, we will soon start make juice from this crop,” said Sina Gerard, owner of Entreprise Urwibutso.

Sina added that the processed inputs have a longer shelf-life of about a year.

Dr Charles Bucagu, Deputy Director General of Agriculture Research and Technology Transfer at RAB, and President of African Potato Association, said RAB has a team working on a sweet potato flour project.

“This is an initiative intended to add value to sweet potato and ensure sustainability in income because it has been realised that when there is large surplus, prices drop,” he said.

Potato production in Rwanda

Dr Patrick Karangwa, Director-General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) said it was sweet potato which closes nutritional gaps related to failing of cassava and banana harvests.

He said Rwanda produced 916,000 tonnes of Irish potatoes, and over 1.186 million tonnes of sweet potatoes in 2018.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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