IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Counterpart International in Senegal plans to ask USDA for more than 1,000 metric tons of dehydrated potatoes to feed malnourished school children, though mashed potatoes aren’t a familiar dish in the West African nation.
Melodie Cerin, Counterpart’s program coordinator in Senegal, explained the U.S. Potato Board helped her organization incorporate dehydrated potatoes into couscous, a traditional dish that the 25,000 school students served by her nutrition program are bound to love.
Counterpart was one of seven private, voluntary organizations participating in a May 30 USPB workshop to promote dehydrated potatoes in USDA and USAID food assistance to foreign nutrition programs.
Cerin said potatoes lend calories and carbohydrates to meals and help stretch other ingredients. Her program previously ordered 500 metric tons of dehydrated potatoes in 2006.
“It was actually a challenge to use it all up because it ends up being much more than you ever thought,” Cerin said.
USPB consultant Cade Fields-Gardner said dehydrated potatoes offer the versatility to meet nutritional needs of populations ranging from infants to HIV patients. They’re easy to digest, easily fortified with nutrients, require little fuel and preparation time and high in potassium, which is important for building muscle in malnourished populations. She said dehydrated potatoes are also known to prevent diarrhea, a leading killer of malnourished small children.
USPB took the workshop participants on a tour of all facets of Eastern Idaho potato production before pitting them in a cooking competition at Miles Willard Technologies, where they developed dehydrated potato recipes for targeted nutrition-assistance populations. USPB International Marketing Manager Teresa Kuwahara said the training, offered since 2005, has led to more requests by organizations for dehydrated potatoes in food assistance than ever before.
Kuwahara said USPB helps organizations complete complex paperwork to obtain dehydrated potatoes in food aid, assists with recipe development and aids in overcoming unexpected obstacles. For example, when an organization discovered USDA had no approved packaging for shipping dehydrated potato granules — which are denser than flakes and can rupture bags in transit — she led the effort to design a 1.63 kilogram, foil bag packed in cardboard boxes. That facilitated the first shipment of dehydrated granules, ordered by Counterpart International in Cameroon. Due to the expense of the packaging, USPB has hired a consultant to develop 10 and 20 kilogram bags.
“The (consultant) told me they have a bag that passes standard testing for 10 kilograms. We’re still working on 20 kilograms, but we think we’ll have that by the end of June,” Kuwahara said, adding getting graphics approved is the next step.
James Njong, a leader with the Cameroon school feeding program serving 93,000 students, said the granules his program ordered are fortified with crucial micronutrients that children in the region lack. Njong’s program feeds its spuds in mashed potato form for breakfast.
“In the beginning, they did not love it very much,” Njong said. “But when sugar is added, it is perfect. I know the nutritional value. The students are enjoying it, and they are putting on weight.”