The International Potato Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIP) through the IFAD-funded Food Security Through Asian Roots and Tubers (FoodSTART) Project and the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences (SAAS) organized a week-long study tour in Sichuan, China. The visit highlighted various outcomes of long-term research on strengthening the sweetpotato industry through processing and storage technologies, with strong support from local government and the private sector. This research has also involved close collaboration between SAAS and CIP on technology development.
Sichuan is the largest sweetpotato producing province in China with a production volume of 15 million tons per year. In the 80s, the volume of sweetpotato being processed was less than five per cent (5%) of the total production. The collaboration between SAAS and CIP to improve the sweetpotato industry in China has involved breeding of new sweetpotato cultivars and the development and testing of sweetpotato processing technologies and equipment since the 1990s.
“The breakthrough in the development of technologies of sweetpotato whole nutrition flour, starch, noodles, potato and sweetpotato instant noodles and other snack foods became good models for large-scale sweetpotato processing in Sichuan and in China” said Dr. Jiang Xie, sweetpotato processing specialist at SAAS and host for the study tour. The augmentation of incomes of the farmers from the improved sweetpotato technology contributed to the elevation of local agricultural economy of Sichuan.
A Knowledge and Experience Exchange on Sweetpotato Processing
The resulting technologies from research collaboration of SAAS and CIP were showcased during the study tour, which involved representatives from Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), USAID Horticulture Project CIP/AVRDC Bangladesh, ACI Limited Bangladesh (private sector) and Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) in India.
The study tour was conducted on the 25th to 31st of January 2015 and divided into four parts: a) exchange of information on sweetpotato production and research in Bangladesh, India and China covering the industrial system for sweetpotato from variety, cultivation, harvest, storage, processing and market systems; b) presentation on sweetpotato utilization, processing research, and processing industry of the main enterprises and farmers in Sichuan; c) visit to the laboratory of agricultural products storage and processing research demonstration and d) visit to the companies and markets. The sweetpotato processed products discussed during the study tour were starch, noodles, instant noodles, flour and snack foods (chips, crispy sweetpotato cakes, low sugar sweetpotato candy, etc.).
Different methods of processing sweetpotato noodles were introduced and demonstrated to the participants. The types of noodle processing are the following: a) extruding method (with heated tank) – suitable for high sticky starch (from sweetpotato) and considered as the best quality of starches; b) extruding method – made by extruder with single screw or double linked screws with head to end; c) hot water method and d) sheeting method – made by sheeting noodle machine line (usually by large production scale).
Another part of the week-long study tour was the demo of various machines used for starch and noodles by small to medium scale processors. In addition, starch refining, drying equipment and storage facilities were also accessed by the delegates.
Opportunities for research collaboration with sweetpotato industry in Asia
With the advanced and progressive sweetpotato processing technologies in China, representatives from India and Bangladesh have identified prospects for their own sweetpotato industry improvement. To name a few, BRAC and ACI identified the need for further research on the industrial variety of sweetpotato (i.e. purple-fleshed) that is suitable in Bangladesh. It is also important to explore the food preferences of the consumers in terms of sweetpotato and potato snack foods and processed products.
Moreover, the Sichuan study tour has awakened the interest of and encouraged the private sector ACI Limited to be involved in the entire potato value chain in Bangladesh. Mr. M. Saifullah, the Head of Strategy for ACI Agribusiness expressed his intention to pursue concrete collaboration with SAAS on food R&D and production of potato-based snacks - from varietal development to potato processing. This possible area of South-South cooperation – the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, can be facilitated by CIP in the future.
Aside from sweetpotato product development, improvement of storage methods and facilities is also a concern for India and Bangladesh. For storage in Bangladesh, sweetpotato is normally spread over the floor made of mud which makes the fresh roots vulnerable to the attacks of insects and fungus.
As seen in Sichuan, another potential area of collaboration is the adoption of SP-based chips and flour production technologies in India and Bangladesh, hands-on plant training on technologies and machineries in SP processing and industrial products must be explored. Furthermore, initiatives on increasing community awareness on nutritional and health benefits of sweetpotato utilization must be prioritized and reinforced.
Prepared by Angelica Barlis, Communication Specialist of CIP based on the reports submitted by S.C. Nath & SSRM M.A. Sorwar (BRAC), M. Saifullah (ACI Agribusiness), M.S. Sajeev & M. Nedunchezhiyan (ICAR-CTCRI) and J.Xie (SAAS). All photos from Dr. Xie Jiang of SAAS.