Orange sweet potato reduces risk of vitamin A deficiency

Orange sweet potato

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition has stated that orange sweet potato (OSP) has been effective in providing vitamin A to malnourished women and children in Mozambique, where the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is very high.

Announcing the research findings, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said vitamin A deficiency can lead to impaired immune defences and eye damage that can lead to blindness and even death, stating that annually, 250,000 to 500,000 preschool children go blind from the deficiency, while about two-thirds will die within months of going blind.

According to IFPRI, the sweet potato, which is conventionally bred to be rich in vitamin A, was distributed as part of a HarvestPlus project to more than 10,000 households in the Zambezia Province in northern Mozambique.

The research institute said many of the households traditionally grew and ate yellow or white sweet potato, which are poor vitamin A sources, but the project resulted in about 65% of households adopting OSP.

Following after this, although many farmers substituted OSP for yellow or white ones on their plots, a good number were ‘new’ sweet potato farmers and due to adoption, household consumption of OSP and thus, vitamin A intakes, increased substantially, while on average vitamin A intakes doubled for both children and women, the study’s findings showed.

IFPRI said by project end, the sweet potato provided more than 70% of all dietary vitamin A and was the third most important food in the diet (after maize and rice) for young children and also provided more vitamin A than other local foods such as pumpkin, leafy green vegetables, or mango.

Meanwhile, according to the research, available for about three months of the year, or longer in other regions, the orange sweet potato can help close the vitamin A deficiency gap, when other vitamin A-rich foods or supplements are not available.

Further, previous smaller-scale studies have shown that orange sweet potato consumption results in measurable improvements in vitamin A levels of young children.

Commenting on the research, Dr. Christine Hotz, former HarvestPlus Nutrition Coordinator who led the study, said “We’ve now shown that you can scale up efforts to distribute OSP to poor rural communities and see this translate into increased OSP and vitamin A intakes, especially in women and children, who are most vulnerable to mineral and vitamin deficiencies,” adding, “It’s a powerful approach using agriculture to improve nutrition and public health.”

The orange sweet potato has also been introduced in other countries including Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe to combat VAD.

From 2007-2009, HarvestPlus, an organisation that leads a global effort to breed and disseminate micronutrient-rich staple food crops to reduce hidden hunger in malnourished populations, together with its partners, disseminated orange sweet potato, to see if VAD could be reduced, to more than 24,000 households in Mozambique and Uganda. HarvestPlus.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

1 Comment
  1. Thuocbo says

    very nice to know more about orange sweet potato as i’m curious about food and vitamin supplements

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