Cooking contest creates new options for aid programs
By JOHN O'CONNELL
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -- Getting people in African countries to like dehydrated potatoes prepared in a typical manner is a challenge for food aid programs.
Claude Nankam, who works for the nongovernmental organization World Vision International, is certain that youths in Cameroon would come back for more dehydrated spuds incorporated into one of their favorite snacks -- a sweet fritter called beignet.
Nankam and a team of nutrition program representatives developed the recipe May 4 during an "Iron Chef" contest, hosted at Miles Willard Technologies in Idaho Falls.
Using dehydrated spuds, participants had to create dishes acceptable to the malnourished Africans they serve. The cooking challenge was part of a three-day workshop, hosted by the U.S. Potato Board to educate food organizations about the benefits of using dehydrated potatoes.
Nankam hopes his program will eventually use dehydrated spuds to prepare beignet for school breakfasts.
"If it is good here, definitely that is what we are going to do," Nankam said prior to frying his first batch.
Nankam explained his fritters also included bean powder. The vitamin C in potatoes unlocks the iron in beans, addressing a significant nutrient deficiency in many African children.
In Mali, Ahmed Moussa N'Game, a director with Africare, envisions using dehydrated potatoes in emergency rations for those affected by a recent coup.
"Mali is undergoing an emergency now with displaced population due to the rebellion in the northern part of the country, and the organization Africare is working on solutions for displaced populations for nutrition, and also to feed the elderly and lactating mothers," N'Game said. "In terms of the cooking demonstration, we learned a lot we can share with others. We can cook so many different things and replicate it back home."
N'Game found dehydrated potatoes to be an affordable option in Africare's former program for Burkina Faso's HIV patients.
Counterpart International may add dehydrated spuds into programming in West Africa, where malnutrition rates have been on the rise in the past six months due to a severe drought. Program official Alisha Rodriquez noted dehydrated spuds have a longer shelf life than other products with a similar nutritional profile.
T.K. Kuwahara, who heads the USPB's dehydrated program, said her organization will also help NGOs fill out paperwork to request dehydrated products from USDA and USAID and will visit their countries to provide additional training. Kuwahara said dehydrated products have been identified as working best in programs that assist children under 5, school feeding, emergency feeding and therapeutic feeding.
Dehydrated spuds can be prepared quickly, and without fuel if necessary. USPB has hosted the workshop since 2004.
"Potatoes are versatile. You can pair potatoes with anything that's locally available," said Kuwahara, who has seen spuds mixed with termites as a protein source in Zambia.
Kuwahara said there are 1 billion people in the world facing food insecurity, and U.S. food aid has a $1.2 billion budget. Known U.S. dehydrated sales for food assistance totaled 980 metric tons in fiscal 2012.
"If the goal of the USPB International Food Assistance Initiative is to get just 1 percent of this for dehydrated purchases, that would represent $12 million with the current food aid budget," she said.