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Documenting the Impact of Biofortified Sweetpotato in Uganda

December 15, 2009

© 2009 Martin Malungu

On a cloudy day in May, the Bakyala Kwagalana farmers’ group eagerly gathers in Saayi within the Mukono District of Uganda to share stories about how a strangely orange sweetpotato (OSP) has greatly improved the health of their children. A team of researchers from IFPRI’s Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division and HarvestPlus are just as eager to assess, document, and learn from this apparent success.

The farmers, most of them mothers, are part of a pilot project led by HarvestPlus, an international research program created to combat micronutrient malnutrition. Through a process called biofortification, HarvestPlus has helped scientists at the International Potato Center and Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation use conventional methods to breed staple crops with higher levels of key vitamins and minerals. Since late 2007, these farmers—who traditionally ate cassava and white sweetpotato—have been growing four different varieties of vitamin-A enriched OSP.

When the project began, nearly 25 percent of children in the Mukono District got sick often, due to deficient levels of vitamin A—a vitamin that prevents blindness and contributes to a healthy immune system. Today their mothers tell a different story. Children, as well as adults, who were once weak and suffered from poor eyesight and other ailments, are now healthy and energetic. Similar success stories abound.

IFPRI and HarvestPlus are rigorously investigating the effectiveness of OSP in improving nutrition; the extent to which OSP has been grown and consumed by farm households; the vitamin-A content of OSP after boiling, drying, or other processing; and the vitamin-A levels in infants, children, and women before and after sweetpotato is consumed. Measuring such impacts is crucial to understanding and maximizing the benefits (and cost-effectiveness) of nutrient-rich staple crops in the fight against hidden hunger in Uganda and around the world.

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