Agriculture officials optimistic about sweet potato, cassava bread-making initiative

Extension Officer Sereno Benjamin said although the cassava and sweet potato bread-making initiative has been done before, the added component of including a scientific taste test is critical to help determine the type of success the products will have on the local market.

The Ministry of Agriculture, IICA, CARDI, the FAO and Epicurean Bakery have embarked on a three-day baking exercise with specific groups. Wednesday was the Food and Nutrition teachers’ turn along with Ministry of Agriculture staff.

The random survey on the public’s response to the sweet potato and cassava bread-making initiative is being conducted just outside Epicurean Supermarket by staff of the newly established Statistics, Research and Information Technology unit within the Ministry of Agriculture, headed by Dr. Michael Rickaille.

Yesterday (Thursday) was the last of this survey.

The freshly baked bread is reportedly becoming quite a hit as scores of people sampled the novelty of sorts with an almost instant nod of approval.
According to Benjamin, “The reason why sweet potato and cassava were chosen is that those types of bread have been made in other countries across the region and the recipes that we are using have been used and tested and have been successful in other countries in the Caribbean. Once we have gotten people to start using the sweet potato and cassava bread, then we could manipulate the products we make as well as other ingredients that we put in; for example, pumpkin is another crop that we could use, but we want to establish the sweet potato and cassava bread as alternatives to the wheat flour that people use.”

Once householders are on board with these commodities, then the ministry is prepared to go into other alternatives, he added.

The undertaking, if successful, could replace 40 percent of wheat flour imports. Also, one thousand acres of land to grow sweet potato and cassava would be required and this would augur well for local farmers.

“So you could imagine how significant the impact would be if we go up to 50-60 per cent displacement of wheat?  The landscape in Antigua will change in terms of agriculture and also, because you are doing value added, the value of the commodities would be better and you would be able to reduce the glut you would have at the public markets of these products,” he said.

Benjamin thanked Brownie’s Bakery for playing a significant role in preparing some of the ingredients for the baking session.
Jermaine Pelle, who was representing the company, said it would be interesting to see how consumers react to the sweet potato and cassava bread, as most have been accustomed to flour products. He however believes it is a leap in the right direction.

Senior Extension Officer Owolabi Elabanjo said the initiative forms part of the ministry’s drive to push more utilization of cassava and sweet potatoes.
“What we want people to do is to embrace the nutritional value of the sweet potato and cassava bread. I am very proud that we are doing this again and I can assure you that within the next quarter, we will be doing this again at Brownie’s Bakery.”

Elabanjo thanked all parties that play a part in making this possible and from the public’s response; he believes that they are eagerly awaiting both products to hit the local market.

“In the global world we are looking at food security, so we want to limit the utilization of wheat and wheat flour products. We have found that cassava and sweet potato can do the same job, so we want the public to embrace the new idea and experience better nutrition,” he said.

“The more demand is made for sweet potato and cassava, the more farmers and bakers would benefit economically.”

Meantime, Craig Thomas, IICA’s National Specialist noted that the project called “The Utilization of Local Commodities – Cassava and Sweet Potato”, began in 2016.

Thomas said that switching to these commodities has its benefits.

“Well, from a nutritional standpoint, as you know we are affected by Non-Communicable Diseases here in Antigua and Barbuda and I think sessions like these will help our communities to be more health conscious in our food choices.”

CARDI’s Country Representative Paul Lucas said that assisting the farmers to be more productive in the use of these types of crops is a focus of his organization.

“We have the sweet potato and we have the cassava; both are commodities that we focus heavily on throughout the Caribbean and we are hoping that through these efforts we can see additional uses for these commodities.”

The teachers said they will definitely transfer their knowledge of this skill to the classroom as they enjoy baking. The Antigua Grammar School’s Food and Nutrition Teacher, Dordette Auguiste, is encouraging householders to try new recipes and add variation to their cooking. They all said they totally enjoyed the session and according to them, “Creative Cooking is the way to go.”

The baking activity wraps today.