Sweet potato: the new source of money

In great evils, great means. With soaring wheat prices around the world, largely due to the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, manufacturers have been forced to undertake alternative innovations to stay in business.
According to the World Food Programme, 40% of the world’s wheat supply comes from Ukraine, and the continuation of the conflict in this European country has coincided with the increase in the price of bread and raw materials in Uganda.

In a partnership of three companies, Jonisa Bakery, a private company with a major interest in entrepreneurial participation in the food sector value chain, HarvestPlus, a Ugandan NGO working to help alleviate vitamin A deficiency and the Lishe company have given birth to a novelty – the tasty, healthy orange potato bread. According to Jude Asiimwe, product development manager at HarvestPlus, the new potato bread coming to market not only reduces the use of expensive wheat in production, but is also spiced with vitamin A.
“In producing this bread, we focused on the micronutrients that Ugandans lacked. Vitamins are needed in small amounts but are very vital for conditioning our body. HarvestPlus promotes staple foods that are higher in vitamin A and minerals,” he says.

Adding value
HarvestPlus mainly focuses on getting zinc and iron minerals and works on a number of crops such as orange sweet potatoes, orange maize and iron rich maize, pearl millet in Karamoja and this brings them to support farming communities.
Asiimwe adds that they realized most Ugandan farmers had more sweet potatoes without a ready market, so they decided to innovate to expand it to confectionery. “We mash sweet potatoes to make flour which is mixed with wheat to make vitamin A rich bread. Unlike white bread, vitamin A is needed every day.

More currencies
At the national level, Asiimwe reveals that they seek to save foreign exchange earnings by reducing the amount of wheat the country imports and diverting the money to farmers.
“In 2020, wheat imports into the country were around $400 million. We are aiming for a reduction of at least 10% in this monetary haemorrhage. Jonisa only replaces 25% and that means Uganda can save around $40 million annually that goes back to farmers,” he says.
Even more, sweet potato bread with orange has the nutritional advantage of reducing the sugar consumed since the baker reduces it by 10%. Simply put, the latest innovation will save consumers money and improve their nutrition.

Simplistic value chain
The process begins with HarvestPlus identifying farmers who have planted vines from the Naro Research Center. They are harvested after four months and not peeled. This work is done by Lishe, a value-added factory in Gayaza. Lishe thoroughly washes the potatoes before steaming them for about 30 minutes. It is then chewed into mashed potatoes and packaged before being sent to Jonisa Bakery in Kiwalye-Ngalamye in Wakiso District. Chewing the mash is recommended for seven minutes.

It is often kept in chilled conditions to avoid spoiling before use, but according to Asiimwe, they are working with a group of researchers from Makerere University to establish modern preservation technology. Currently, Lishe is supplied with potatoes primarily by a group of refugee farmers, but as demand grows they intend to tap into HarvestPlus’ database of nearly 900,000 farmers across the country. country for supply.
The mashed potatoes are curried yellow and are weighed before being delivered to Jonisa Bakery for further production. Making potato bread requires a soft mash, so there’s no need to dry it out or add preservatives.

In Jonisa, they make the ratios, substitute 25 percent of wheat – putting 50 kilograms of wheat and 20 kilograms of potatoes. Currently, Lishe delivers 300 kilograms of soft mashed potatoes to Jonisa daily. According to Jimmy Ssegawa, production manager at Jonisa, they only use 90 kilograms per day.
“We started with one sachet but today we need 10 sachets of puree per month and this shows the progress of innovation. We combine mash with other ingredients such as wheat and salt to make bread and scones in a 2:3 ratio. At least 40% of the ingredients are mashed sweet potatoes,” he explains. Every day they make more than 100 loaves of 250g and 400g, which they sell from Shs3,000 and Shs5,000. Jonisa, which has more than 100 workers, has Unbs certification for bread and mash.

More benefits
Interestingly, the invention of potato bread is less than a month old but is gradually gaining market attention for its myriad merits.
Ssegawa argues that the bread saves costs judging by the raw materials used and based on the low-cost production cycle. “When you see the standard recipe for normal bread, it’s cheaper. You reduce some of the ingredients used and save on production costs. Second, the production cycle time is shorter because it does not require a lot of fermentation yeast during cooking. It is economical and uses less energy and takes less time to cook,” he says. “It gives us more bread than wheat bread. Imagine 16 more loaves than normal loaf, it’s cost effective, it’s healthy loaf,” says Ssegawa.
A loaf of potato bread costs Shs 5,000 in supermarkets and, like wheat bread, it has a shelf life of six days.

Future plans
Growers are eyeing higher production to meet domestic demand and are also venturing into the overseas market which is hungry for Ugandan orange sweet potatoes. Apart from the fact that potatoes go a long way in reducing the national vitamin deficiency from about 25% in 2006 to 9% currently, the need to change the unpopular perception that potatoes are the preserve of the poor is blatant.
Frank Tumwebaze, the sales manager of Jonisa Bakery, says they haven’t secured the patent rights for their baby product yet, but they’re sure the experts behind making the product make it different and sweeter than anyone could try to reproduce it.

John Kitembo, a sweet potato farmer, says that while he supplies produce to the factory, he also sells to other farmers. A 30 kilogram bag of sweet potato vines costs 50,000 Shs. This season, Kitembo has sold 76 bags for Shs 3.8 million on its half acre. Initially, the farmer would get a total income as low as Shs. 500,000.

Edward N. Arrington