Orange-fleshed Sweet Potato Products are Improving Nutrition in Malawi
In Malawi, roughly 60 percent of children under the age of five are vitamin A-deficient. Orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) is one important food that can address this deficiency, but many sweet potatoes currently go unsold and unconsumed, as the market is flooded during harvest time with little chance of processing and storage. OFSP are grown extensively by smallholder farmers in Malawi. According to the FAO, sweet potato production grew from 200,000 tons in 1993 to 1.7 million tons in 2003; however, sweet potatoes have traditionally been a subsistence food consumed in poor households with minimal processing. There is, however, potential for a market for OFSP products to raise farmer incomes, improve household nutrition, and strengthen the local economy.
Universal Industries, a leading snack and beverage producer in Malawi, is partnering with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation and the International Potato Center to develop the market for OFSP in Malawi. Through this partnership, Universal is building a sustainable supply chain by providing technical assistance, improved vines, and a formal market to 8,000 sweet potato farmers as well as testing and commercially launching several sweet potato-based products, including snack foods.
Developing a robust market for OFSP products has benefits across Malawi. Sweet potato farmers benefit from higher prices as well as the stable income that comes from selling in large quantities, allowing them to plan their revenue and expenditures more accurately. Local sourcing also means that Universal can make its products using sweet potato flour rather than the wheat flour normally imported for their products, increasing sustainability and reducing costs of importing flour. Substituting OFSP for imported, less nutritious ingredients also improves nutrition and supports the local economy. Finally, making more vitamin A- and beta carotene-rich OFSP products available in both rural and urban markets helps address a major nutritional challenge.
As Universal expands the market for value-added OFSP products, more people in both rural and urban areas will have access to this nutrient-rich food, and fewer children will suffer from the health problems associated with lack of vitamin A and beta-carotene. Higher farmer incomes will also improve household nutrition, as farmers are able to buy better food for their families. Market solutions to development challenges can have financial and social benefits. Universal Industries is showing how a private company can address a market gap and a development gap while growing a sustainable business.
Read more about how smallholder farmers are embracing the orange-fleshed sweet potato on the AgTechXChange.