Processing staples can address food security

Frying sweepotato donuts as part of adding value to processed sweetpotato flour

Papua New Guineans have survived on agriculture for many years and continue to do so to this very day.

Agricultural practices have evolved and have been altered by irregular weather patterns and impacts of climate change.

Such negative impacts have made it even more challenging for rural farmers to predict weather, plan, plant, and prepare for harvest.

Traditional crop varieties have succumbed to invasive pests and diseases which have greatly affected yield, income opportunities and food security.

Post harvest and food processing techniques are critical for farmers to preserve staples like sweetpotato during trying times as drought.

Our traditional staples in their raw state cannot be stored for a long period therefore, processing techniques help to enhance the state of staples so it can be preserved for a period of time.

Such practice is part of NARI’s efforts in helping to build resilience among vulnerable communities during natural disasters such as drought or health emergencies such as Covid-19 pandemic, which the country is currently experiencing.

Sweetpotato is a very important crop in the Highlands, Momase and New Guinea Islands region. Over 500, 000 tonnes of sweetpotato is produced every year in these regions.

 Sweetpotato can deteriorate fast because of its high moisture content.

If processed into flour using the food processing technique, it can be stored for six to 12 months.

When there is a sufficient supply of processed and preserved sweetpotato flour, food security issues can be addressed.

Flour can be used to bake buns or fried as a meal together with vegetable and protein as a balanced diet during food shortage periods.

To make sweetpotato flour requires a step by step process.  Firstly it is washed and dried before it is shredded into thin pieces to allow for efficient drying.

This can be done using knives, peelers or graters.

These thin slices are mixed into a solution comprised of squeezed lemon juice and water and left to sit for five minutes.

Thin slices are strained to remove excess water and placed on a raised-bed to dry in the sun.

This drying process takes about eight hours under full sunlight to ensure that the slices become hard and crispy.

To ensure the slices are crispy, a piece can be chewed on to check for a crackling sound.

When dried, pieces can be placed in air tight containers and stored away in a dry and cool place.

The final step is when a mortar and pestle or a hand mill is used to pound/ grind the dried pieces into powder.