Beneficiaries (nutrition mother-to-mother support group members) from Karamoja who received clean OFSP planting materials.
Beneficiaries (nutrition mother-to-mother support group members) from Karamoja who received clean OFSP planting materials.

The Role of Biofortified Sweetpotato in Humanitarian Nutrition Interventions in Fragile Environments

By Frederick Grant

More than a billion people live in countries affected by long-term humanitarian crises, including more than 135 million who depend on humanitarian food assistance. The World Food Programme (WFP) alone reached 97 million people with food assistance in 2019. Long-term humanitarian crises are a main driver of global food insecurity and malnutrition. Agriculture research and the delivery of promising technologies for food production and utilization must and can contribute more effectively to the multisectoral effort to respond to — and over time reduce the need for — humanitarian food assistance. This includes sustainable production, distribution and consumption of nutritious, affordable food by vulnerable populations.

CGIAR has developed biofortified crop varieties and supportive seed, production and post-harvest technologies that can contribute significantly to meeting this challenge. Amongst these, the orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) stands out as a highly effective source of vitamin A and other micronutrients whilst being a low-input, climate resilient and high yielding crop. The International Potato Center (CIP) and partners have enabled more than 6.9 million households in Africa and South Asia to grow an increasing range of locally adapted OFSP varieties, and OFSP has gained an increasing footprint in local food systems and markets. More recently, humanitarian agencies, including the WFP, have started to include OFSP in their programming, with an initial dual focus on OFSP production by vulnerable households and the utilization of OFSP puree for young child feeding at a household level.

By connecting a highly effective set of agrifood technologies (OFSP varieties, healthy baby toolkit, shelf-stable puree) with efficient and effective delivery mechanisms (WFP’s humanitarian programs) in high-impact environments where other, conventional approaches have not been successful, it is possible to reach significant nutrition and livelihood impacts. Moreover, transitioning into more market-based approaches that engage local and national agrifood systems can reduce the need for humanitarian food aid.

A partnership between CIP and the WFP is seeking to improve both the nutrition and livelihoods of vulnerable populations at a large scale and reduce their need for humanitarian aid through sustainable production, marketing and consumption of OFSP and other nutritious foods. The collaboration could benefit at least 10 million people living in long-term crises environments.

The current CIP-WFP collaboration delivers both supply and demand side support in the following ways:

  1. Inclusion of OFSP, vegetables and other nutritious crops (including biofortified high-iron beans) in household production systems among communities affected by displacement and/or climate crises, with ongoing activities in Kenya and Uganda. This approach introduces new and improved drought-tolerant OFSP varieties, developed by CIP and national partners, in semi-arid agroecologies where sweetpotato is a new crop and is performing very well.
  2. Delivering a healthy baby toolkit (HBT) for children 6-23 months of age to improve young child feeding in vulnerable households and communities utilizing OFSP and other nutritious foods. Rural health centers and health sector extension staff are the key agents for the delivery of these toolkits and accompanying nutrition education messages. They enable community groups of young mothers to provide peer support for sustained and locally-appropriate changes in nutrition and feeding practice.

Through these approaches, and with support from the UK government, in 2020, CIP and partners have delivered OFSP planting material to more than 70,000 aid-dependent households and OFSP as food to more than 300,000 consumers, as well as the healthy baby toolkit to over 50,000 children under 2 years of age living in fragile environments.

These activities are designed and implemented within existing humanitarian programs, including those targeting refugee/internally displaced person (IDP) settlements, public procurement programs, private sector alliances and agriculture and livelihoods programs. In addition to the partnership with WFP in Kenya and Uganda, CIP is also working with The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Bangladesh and with large nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Ethiopia, along similar lines.

In all countries, we are working closely with national programs and local government institutions to strengthen capacities for planning, delivery and monitoring, and to build institutional and policy strategies for resilience. In the case of OFSP puree, private sector partners are already investing in manufacturing and supply chain development.

Important changes are underway in the delivery of humanitarian food aid, and this is an opportune time for making new connections with local food systems, including the utilization of biofortified crops. The next set of activities under development by CIP and WFP include:

  • Linking OFSP producers and traders to institutional markets created through cash transfer and other social protection schemes as a strategy for reducing dependency on humanitarian food aid through stronger agricultural markets.
  • Utilizing locally- or regionally-manufactured shelf-stable OFSP puree (and purees combining OFSP with other nutritious local ingredients), contributing to the improved sustainability of institutional nutrition support programs, including school feeding.

Looking ahead, we plan to utilize the evolving One CGIAR regional and programmatic structure to expand this approach further in order to capture a broader range of impactful technologies and innovations (e.g., adapted irrigation technologies or sustainable vegetable production).

Benefits and health impacts that are expected in the next 3 years:

  • 500,000 households producing nutritious foods (local combinations of OFSP, vegetables, HIB, etc.) through humanitarian programs.
  • 450,000 children under 2 years of age consuming OFSP using the healthy baby toolkit.
  • 100,000 megatons of OFSP and other nutritious foods sold through institutional/facilitated markets.

This blog was originally published on Agrilinks.

Strategic Objective
Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Food Security and Agriculture, Climate-Smart Agriculture, Sustainable Land Management, Natural Resource Management, Private Sector Engagement, Resilience
Africa, Global

Frederick Grant

Country Manager (Uganda) and Nutrition Scientist, International Potato Center

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