KENYA – Burton and Bamber, a Kenyan food processing company specializing in the value addition of fruits and other crops, has cut the ribbon to its newly installed aseptic puree processing unit in Yatta, Machakos.

The facility, established in collaboration with the International Potato Center (CIP) alongside its partners, will undertake the production of shelf-stable Orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) puree.

It is important to note that, the adoption of OFSP in Kenyan diets has been low compared to the local/traditional white, cream, and yellow-fleshed sweet potato varieties which are typically dry, starchy, and have a mealie texture.

To this end, consumers prefer the OFSP puree to its flour or fresh root format, as the puree has a wide array of applications in daily recipes such as the baking of bread, pies, soups, and making of casseroles, beverages, porridges, and other side dishes.

The puree also outperforms alternative products as a base ingredient and binding agent. For instance, it is a cheaper and more nutritious alternative replacing up to 50% of wheat in baked and fried products and saving processors up to 20% in costs.

During the launch of the facility, Dr. Paul Demo, Regional Director for Africa at International Potato Center, highlighted that the primary purpose of disseminating OFSP is primarily to ensure the consumption of nutritious food in African households as the crop is rich in β-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.

He further revealed that the crop is resilient under the effects of climate change and can survive diverse agroecologies, making it vital for reliable incomes for farmers, especially when other crops fail.

Despite the crop acting like a silver bullet that will ensure the availability of secure and nutritious food and a stable market for small-holder farmers, there have been bottlenecks to expanding the use of fresh purée due to its cumbersome preparation mode and storage.

To increase the availability and adoptability of OFSP puree, CIP collaborated with Burton and Bamber (B&B) under the Delivery of Bio Fortified Crops at Scale program (DDBio) funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), to undertake the research on production and processing of the crop into the innovative OFSP puree in 2019.

This has become a reality after four years, with the launch of the newly installed continuous flow nomatic microwave system for puree production, the first of its kind in the East Africa region, with a processing capacity of 1 ton of OFSP for an 8-hour shift.

Despite the crop acting like a silver bullet that will ensure the availability of secure and nutritious food and a stable market for small-holder farmers, there have been bottlenecks to expanding the use of fresh purée due to its cumbersome preparation mode and storage.

The aseptic puree processing unit produces an OFSP puree with at least 12 months of shelf stability without refrigeration.

“This is a real milestone to see the products of our research from the breeding of the OFSP varieties taken to a marketable food product that is now available in Kenya and that can be taken up with other companies that produce baked goods, beverages, baby foods, and other products. We are proud to be part of this collaboration,” said Simon Heck – Program Director at International Potato Center.

According to Ofelia Burton and Jonathan Bamber – founders of B&B, the primary off-takers of the product will be food business operators who will incorporate the OFSP puree as a key ingredient in the products they produce.

“We hope that the institutional buyers and humanitarian programs in the region will lead to the industrialization of OFSP puree in large part for the formal market and wide range of applications including OFSP processing for packaged baby food, and school meals for children; and other feeding programs,” added Ofelia.

A collaborative effort

CIP chose B&B as its production and processing partner for the project, as the company directly works with rural farmers in Makueni, Kitui, Machakos, and Muranga, training them on global good agricultural practices and certification.

To ensure the success of the initiative, CIP in partnership with the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has released new OFSP (Irene and Sumaia) varieties that have good appearance and processing traits.

B&B has identified sweet potato farmers to act as decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs) to supply disease-free sweet potato planting materials (seeds) to nearby farmers, who in turn will supply the factory with the raw materials for processing thus serving as a direct source of market.

“We expect that this processing unit should link up with small-holder farmers producing Orange Flesh Sweet Potato because the project aims to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers in rural communities.

“Farmers always worry when they adopt an improved technology that gives them high yields and they don’t know where to take the excess production to. Market is always a problem, and thus by linking with B&B to set up this infrastructure is fulfilling part of its mandate by creating market access to small-holder farmers,” said Dr. Paul.

CIP also supported B&B to acquire OFSP puree processing and aseptic packaging equipment coupled with capacity building on the sweet potato puree processing.

This it undertook in partnership with researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU) and SinnovaTek, LLC in Raleigh NC who installed the Continuous Flow Microwave System at B&B’s facility, alongside Euro-ingredients Limited and Proteo International who supplied some of the OFSP puree processing technology from Italy.

SinnovaTek and Euro-Ingredients Limited also installed the puree processing and aseptic puree packing equipment.

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