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Sweet Potato: Africa Uses Science For Nourishment

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Sweet potatoes have long been regarded in America as a staple of Thanksgiving dinner, and aren’t usually thought of as part of an overall good diet. But economists believe it could be the thing that will help impoverished nations become healthier and less at risk for death by malnutrition.

Howarth Bouis of the International Food Policy Research Institute came up with an idea called biofortification, which entails adding nutrients to food biologically, when a study showed that giving a vitamin A capsule to malnourished children decreased the amount of deaths by 25%. The dramatic findings made Bouis certain that they had stumbled upon something important, but the problem of how to get the specially engineered food to the people was a tricky one; some were worried it would prove to be too expensive, while others feared no one would take to the new and different-looking foods. After nearly twenty years of work, they have now come up with several genetically engineered foods which offer more nutrients than ever before, including a “golden rice” which is chock full of vitamin A. However, the real success has been with the orange sweet potato.

The sweet potato is the perfect solution, because it’s already rich in vitamin A. No biological alterations needed. And while many African farmers have been growing them for years, they aren’t the orange ones popular in the states, but rather white or yellow ones, which lack beta carotene.

Maria Isabel Andrade has been campaigning for the orange sweet potato in Mozambique and says she’s getting the government involved in order to spread the word about the natural wonders of the vegetable.

“We are still doing this: theater in villages, singing about orange flesh sweet potato, how good it is, how you feed it to your children, and showing recipes so that they get used to it,” says Andrade.

Vitamin A deficiency affects around 250,000 children worldwide under the age of five and is one of the leading causes of blindness and premature death. In Africa, nearly one-third of all children suffer from it.

sweet potato infographic

Sweet Potato: Africa Uses Science For Nourishment
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  • anonymouse

    What is stupid about this is first ofall there are alot of starving people here in isa, and homeless.And if u have not noticed even when i got to caribbean sweet potatoes are not exactly ten cents a pop. they are most expensive potatoe wise and not cheap.. so we dump a whole bumper crop of sweet potatoes that are like 150 a pound here in isa or 99 cents during sale or sometimes do go down to like 75 cents to africa while mi myself cant buy vegatables or food at the pathmark in hood here. its cost to much to buy fresh fruit, and a grape fruit cost like 1.50 for one. teach a man to fish …… or somethign maybe they can raise them and sell them at a lower pirce like the china town bus company in nyc and make alot of money.. and be self reliant. .

    • Wamampela

      First of all, sweet potatoes have ALWAYS been largely cultivated and eaten in Africa. In my country it is not uncommon to have them for breakfast or as part of a midday snack. Secondly, they are not dumping orange sweet potatoes to African countries: they are actually encouraging farmers to grow this variety in addition to the existing ones they have been growing all along. And yes, sweet potatoes are extremely expensive in ‘western’ countries. But they are one of the most affordable foods in my world. Which is why it makes sense that they encourage farmers to grow this type. Then no one will take your money to buy sweet potatoes for the starving Africans.

  • carol emery

    During the war,Japan had food shortages. My mother’s family grew sweet potato to fend off starvation. To this day, my mother refuses to eat sweet potato. She says they bring back bad memories…