Orange sweet potato champions biofortified foods in Africa

Two Ugandan children dig in to a plate of orange sweet potato (Credit: HarvestPlus)

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition this month, eating orange sweet potato reduces the prevelance of vitamin A deficiency in children in Uganda and Mozambique. Vitamin A is critical for the development of good vision as it is an essential component of rhodopsin, a pigment in photoreceptor cells in the eye. Consequently in poor communities in Africa and south-east Asia, where diets poor in vitamin A are widespread, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Healthy levels of vitamin A are also necessary for normal organ formation and maintenance. Orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties contain more than 50-fold more β-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A after ingestion, than the yellow or white varieties commonly eaten in African countries.

The study monitored the effects of the Orange Sweet Potato (OSP) project, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and coordinated by HarvestPlus. The conclusions predict a promising future for the use of biofortified foods bred for increased nutritional value. It was the first large-scale study of its kind, involving 24 000 households from Uganda and Mozambique. Nutritionists and farmers educated communities on the health benefits of orange sweet potato and on growing, storing, and commercialising orange sweet potato crops. Local women were also given recipes and information about hygiene practices. (more…)

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