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Opinions of Thursday, 14 January 2016

Columnist: Anim-Mensah, Alexander

Plantain, Cocoyam, Cassava/Potato Fufu Powder – What Are We Eating?

To feed Ghana’s growing population in the midst of the limited mechanized farming, dwindling land resources, increased surface mining activities and others, preserving produces throughout the year to safe guard against harvest wastages and to prevent price swings between off-and-on seasons is necessary. Annual harvest wastages are a commonplace in Ghana as well as Africa as a whole. It was once Dr. Nana Baah Boakye’s (former NBSSI Executive Director) dream to preserve and can tomatoes from Akumadan (Ashanti Region) due to consistent annual waste. Today there are several Ghanaian businesses successful executing such initiatives to support both local and international markets.
Of great interest to this article are the numerous fufu powders on the market today i.e. plantain, cocoyam, and cassava/potatoes that are available everywhere in Ghana as well as other Ghanaian communities abroad. With their vibrant appearances on the shelves and one cannot miss their colorful packages and labels. As a Ghanaian, it is delightful to see some local Ghanaian foods and products available on the international market. This as an author considers, life style transformation especially fufu powder since the mortar and piston, vibrations, sweats from pounders, and fufu technicians and or driver accidents and near misses have reduced substantially. Obviously one cannot help himself but notice that, fufu powder is winning the game.
The following are some questions on the table; are these fufu powders really made in Ghana or do they conform to the Ghanaian fufu specification? Or are they just “packaged in Ghana”? Or for that matter what is the actual definition of the “made in Ghana” labels on these products. Is “packaged in Ghana” the same as “made in Ghana”? Are some of these powders actually made in Ghana i.e. planted roots, harvested, processed and packaged in Ghana? Can these powders be processed and packaged outside Ghana and yet still carry the trademark of “packaged in Ghana” or “made in Ghana”? Or does having just the primary or secondary packaging box made in Ghana qualifies the powder as “packaged in Ghana” or “made in Ghana”? In situation where the processing and packaging is done external to Ghana can manufacturers still bear the Ghana seal, trademark, Ghana Flag, or claim conformance to the Ghanaian Food and Drug Board Authority specification?
It worth to point out that a considerable number of these manufacturers are located outside Ghana and some explicitly has the Ghanaian flag on their website and/or on the box which could be just a form of endorsement.
Realizing the international nature of these powders and constant demand and supply with very little mechanized farming in Ghana, some infrastructure scarcity and inefficiencies, not to mention scarcity of land especially due to indiscriminate location of both private and commercial buildings and mining activities just to mention a few; I am tempted to find out the specific locations of the various cocoyam, plantain and cassava/potatoes farms and manufacturing plants in Ghana.
In my view, for the last ten years, cocoyam roots have been very scarce because of the local demand for “kontomere”. Additionally, given the sizes and shapes of our local cocoyam, it may pose processing challenges unless ground with the skin to prevent wastages. However there is a strong possible that for such large scale production a special high yielding cocoyam hybrid or species with a jumbo sizes root larger than the existing local ones are used to reduce processing wastages? If high yielding plants were used why hasn’t Ghanaian market seen abundance of food to lower food prices in general? Or these species may not be available to the local farmers because of competition?
In the same vein, plantains by nature have the natural tendency to turn black upon exposure to air over time which may be inevitable during processing. Removal of this black discoloration may involve bleaching which could affect the color and flavor unless the present of air is avoided through a process called freeze drying. However, in the case of discoloration bleaching the powder may be required to remove the anatomical black discoloration which may not just affect the color but the flavor as well. Restoration of the expected anatomical plantain brown color and flavor for appeal will require addition of color, flavor and may be some preservation.
Moreover, the process of producing these powders may require some form of dehydration with large quantities of raw plantain, cocoyam, and cassava/potatoes needed to produce a box of powdered fufu. From mass production perspective, in order to maintain batch to batch consistency irrespective of in-coming raw material variations some sorts of batch adjustment shall be required in the form of color and or flavor master batch adjuster. For this and other uncited reasons other ingredients such fillers, colorants, flavorings and may be preservatives may be required to be added to these fufu powders? The overarching question then becomes is the fufu powder organic and if not what is the composition? Since forced dehydration could be very energy intensive. If these products are made in Ghana, has the current energy crisis “dumsor” affected manufacturing and cost of these products? Could it be that these powders are not as consumed as anticipated?
On several occasions kneading the cocoyam fufu powder during cooking has presented some color inconsistency and specks of intense localized color which is uncharacteristic of true cocoyam without the color. Color got to be in there from the observations. Yes, there is no scientific explanation except colorant ought to be in there. Relevant consumer required information such as the nutritional facts, calories and the various compositions are well defined on the box in addition to information on other potential uses such as for frying and thickening aids.
The world’s population is not growing any smaller and efficacy/efficiency as well as safety matters to feed the ever growing population. However, there is the tendency of scarcity and greed to drive the use of unsafe materials and chemicals for monetary gains in some situations where there are no checks and balances. Does Ghana have enough farming activities to produce cassava/potatoes, plantain and cocoyam such that it’s adequate to support both local and people aboard? Is the misnomer of “packaged in Ghana” as “made in Ghana” intended and strategized to drive consumer confidence to eat otherwise will not have eaten? Is that a marketing gimmick? Who defines what and who is the watch dog?
In as much as there are wheats there is tares. This booming business could have copy cats that have bad intentions only to make money with inferior goods and not care about consumer safety. This article is not intended to black-eyed the business of instant fufu but to open the dialogue and or create awareness to gather consumers concerns and voices for manufacturers to use the information to innovate to meet stakeholder interests. Concurrently, this is to provide a platform to evaluate and monitor the supply chain to build consumer confidence. Consumers need to be informed, exposed and also have direct access to the various fufu powder companies for transparency. Finally, in situation where analysis and questions do not align it will be worth to have clarity to drive the appropriate support and systems to be put in place. This article is only to provide a platform to understand and discuss the various origins of these powders and to separate the wheat from the tares while safeguarding consumers.

God bless and Happy New Year.

Alexander Anim-Mensah, PhD (ChE)
and Jackie Anim, MS (ChE)
Ohio