World of Difference

Promoting Potatoes as a Viable Food Aid Option

Published in the January 2009 Issue Published online: Jan 27, 2009
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There are a couple of things to know right away when it comes to the International Food Assistance Initiative (IFAI) of the United States Potato Board. One is the overarching goal of the program. Another is the definition of a PVO.

The initiative, which started in 2001, is geared at educating decision makers of food aid programs how dehydrated potatoes can fit into food programming. That is connected to the process of getting potatoes from U.S. fields to recipients in Zambia, Armenia, Indonesia, Bolivia or a number of other places in the world.

In this effort, the IFAI works with private voluntary organizations, or PVOs.



The work of the IFAI involves facilitating personnel from the growing, processing, packaging and shipping aspects of the industry. It also means assisting those who receive the food know how best to use dehydrated potato products.

Directly involved in this complex puzzle is Teresa Kuwahara, or T.K. as she is known. She is the USPB international marketing manager for dehydrated potatoes.

One of her responsibilities is arranging educational tours for individuals in various aspects of the initiative's process. These tour participants come to eastern Idaho to learn about the industry, to see how potatoes go from a harvested crop to a dehydrated product appropriate to food aid dispersion.

PVO attendees at such a tour in April 2008, representing four organizations and five African nations, were given an introduction to the potato industry at Rigby Produce, a processor in Rigby, Idaho. The delegates heard from growers; Dale Mickelson and Boyd Foster and saw both a storage and a processing facility.

Foster told a group gathered at the front of the storage that "these very potatoes will become the products that hopefully some of your countries will eat."

Following the stops in Rigby, tour attendees traveled to the research company Miles Willard Technologies, LLP, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The company is involved with the development of dehydrated products.

Here attendees were instructed on potato flakes and granules and given an opportunity to make foods based on dehydrated potatoes.

Employees demonstrated the rehydration processes using flakes and granules. "They're just showing you the differences between the products," T.K. said. "There are all kinds of things that we do. These are just some guidelines we teach in the United States so that you can have a perfect mashed potato, like when we go to a restaurant."

Since dehydrated potato products may not be familiar to those making food programming orders or to the recipients in the areas receiving food aid, educating on the rehydration process is seen as an important part of the IFAI's effort.

"A lot of times we recommend adding the dehy to water, but when I've been out in the field, people add water to dehy. People boil it over fire," T.K. said.

She explained, ". it's just a little bit of trial and error and that's what we're just trying to demonstrate to you today.

"Depending on what temperature of water you use, depending on where you add the dehy in the process, you will come out with slightly different outcomes . we will have some `hands on' and you can see the differences yourself," she said.

That "hands on" experience came in an open area near the lab. Cooking stations sat near tables of various foods comprising a "local market."

They were separated into cooking groups and began creating dishes utilizing dehydrated potatoes.

This showed some of the variety of foods that can be made with dehy and how in a meal important dietary staples such as protein can be added to the nutrition already found in potatoes.



The IFAI sponsors two tours a year, one in the spring and one in the fall.

"In the spring, we invite field staff decision makers from various PVOs. This training is held in conjunction with the USDA/USAID International Food Aid Conference in Kansas City," according to John Toaspern, USPB vice president of international marketing. "In the fall, we invite the U.S.-based headquarters' decision makers to participate in a shorter, two-day workshop."

The 2008 fall tour was attended by nine representatives. During the tour Matt Muraski, global operations director for Feed My Starving Children, gave a presentation that included information on the organization's success with distributing dehy products abroad.  

T.K. also talked with attendees, taking time to share benefits of using dehy in food programming.

"We also found that the dehydrated potatoes really work in a lot of different programs, and one of them is the school feeding," she said, also communicating that rehydrated potatoes work as a weaning food and for those with compromised immune systems.

Finding how dehy can fit into differing cultures has been a major component to the IFIA's work. Another has been educating individuals on the nutritional advantages dehy provides. Paramount to this has been Cade Fields-Gardner, director of services with TCE Consulting Group, Inc.

In addition to its nutrition, the practicality of dehy is discussed. Rehydrating flakes and granules is less labor intensive for recipients in remote areas of the world than preparing other foods, and the rehydrated potato products are gentle on digestive systems and to those with mouth sores.

As for other advantages, flakes and granules can pack well for shipping and there are cost-per-portion benefits to consider.

"We must educate not only foreign PVO staff, but also U.S.-based headquarter staff as there are many people within each organization who design their food aid programs," Toaspern explains. "There is not just one decision maker, but several.

"Additionally, program directors within PVOs move within the company approximately every three years. Therefore, continual education must be implemented, even if dehy was purchased and utilized by a PVO in the past." 



The success of the IFIA today is backed by ground work in the food aid arena.

"Initially the efforts were focused on figuring out how the international food aid programs worked and how new commodities were added. Then the regulatory hurdles had to be overcome to get dehy approved for the programs," according to the USPB.

"From there the government officials were involved and the PVO employees were made aware of dehy and its availability for the programs. Next, the acceptability of dehy in international food assistance settings around the globe was demonstrated with very basic demonstration projects based on donations of dehy."

With that work established, the IFIA was posed to progress.

"Now much more sophisticated research projects are being undertaken that prove the effectiveness and benefits of dehy in different food assistance settings and with different target groups," according to Toaspern. "These results allow for a much more effective and targeted marketing effort with the PVOs and government officials." 

While the USPB International Marketing Department has taken the lead with the IFIA, other industry groups have made meaningful contributions. The National Potato Council, the Idaho, Washington and Oregon potato commissions and other state organizations have been involved.

The IFAI also recognizes efforts made by individuals.

"Cheryl Koompin, the current co-chair of the USPB International Marketing Committee, has been a huge advocate and supporter of the program. She has made sure that sufficient funding has been in place and she has participated in a number of training programs in the target markets," according to the USPB.

Jon Schodde of Idaho Pacific, of Ririe, Idaho, has also been involved with the IFAI. He has worked for approval of a granule bag that will meet USDA and USAID program requirements. Both Pat Kole of the Idaho Potato Commission and John Keeling of the NPC have made contributions with governmental affairs. Others have also contributed in meaningful ways.



One area of focus for the IFIA is to continue with educational outreach.

"Currently, we are laying the foundation . building awareness and educating people. This is not a short term strategy, but long term," according to Toaspern.

He indicates the "next steps will be to create new information useful to the decision makers in food programming." This includes "implementing new studies proving the benefits of dehy in various settings." 

As the program goes forward, there are opportunities for growers to be involved. One way is to continue supporting the industry organizations funding the work. Others are to host a farm tour or attend a dinner where program delegates can interact with growers. Support may also be given by making planting decisions that allow for the dehy needed to supply the program.

Individuals in other aspects of the industry may also assist. This includes processors, who "are encouraged to participate in government funded international food aid programs by registering with USDA and bidding on purchase invitations," according to the USPB. "Additionally, attending the International Food Aid Conference is encouraged to all industry members to meet the various PVOs and learn more about the food aid programs.

"The industry can help in projects such as developing new, fortified products to introduce to food aid programs."

Being part of a newly-forming "advisory board" for the IFIA is another way to be involved.

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