Millions at lower risk of Vitamin A deficiency by eating sweet potato
Millions of families in Africa and South Asia have improved their diet with special varieties of sweet potato designed to address vitamin A deficiency, a statement from International Potato Center (CIP) showed.
A six-year project, launched in 2013, used a double-edged approach of providing farming families with sweet potato cuttings as well as nutritional education on the benefits of orange-fleshed sweet potato.
The Scaling Up Sweet potato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) project, led by CIP and more than 20 partners, particularly reached more than 2.3 million households with children under five with planting material.
The project, which was rolled out in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Rwanda as well as Bangladesh and Tanzania, resulted in 1.3 million women and children regularly eating orange-fleshed sweetpotato when available.
“Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is one of the most pernicious forms of undernourishment and can limit growth, weaken immunity, lead to blindness, and increase mortality in children,” said CIP General Director Barbara Wells.
“The results of the SUSTAIN project show that agriculture and nutrition interventions can reinforce each other to inspire behaviour change towards healthier diets in smallholder households,” she added.
Over the past decade, CIP and partners have developed dozens of biofortified varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potato in Africa and Asia. These varieties contain high levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A.
CIP said that just 125 grams of fresh orange-fleshed sweet potato provides the daily vitamin A needs of a pre-school child, as well as providing high levels of vitamins B6 and C, manganese and potassium.
Under the SUSTAIN project, families in target communities received nutritional education at rural health centres as well as cuttings that they could then plant and grow.
The project also promoted commercial opportunities for smallholder farmers with annual sales of orange-fleshed sweetpotato puree-based products estimated at more than US$890,000 as a result of the project.