Close to 10 million Ugandans do not have enough food to meet their basic daily energy needs. Another estimated 17 million suffer from different nutritional deficiencies because they lack the money to buy foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and poultry.
This exposes them to diseases, premature death and impaired growth because their diets lack essential nutrients like vitamin A, iodine and zinc. To address this problem, sweet potato farmers in Uganda should add value to their produce.
HarvestPlus has previously done this by focusing on staple food crops consumed by most of the world’s poor living in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The target crops in Africa are beans with iron, cassava with vitamin A, maize with vitamin A and sweet potato with vitamin A.
Apart from being rich in nutrients, the vitamin A rich sweet potatoes are also instrumental in generating funds for the rural women. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is drought and disease-resistant.
Farmers used to be cheated by middle-men. Sweet potato prices had drastically dropped due to a sweet potatoes glut in the market. The only solution to help farmers earn more was by adding value to the sweet potatoes. Today, sweet potato farmers can earn up to sh150,000-sh200,000 from a bag of the improved sweet potatoes.
One can add value to the sweet potatoes by making sweet potato powder that is used to bake biscuits, bread, cakes, cookies and sweet potato porridge. They also produce sweet potato juice and sweet potato flour which is used to make chapatti.
Why breed for nutrition?
In Uganda, many people are malnourished and are at risk of disease, blindnes, stunted growth and other illness due to malnutrition. Hunger and poverty in Uganda are closely linked.
According to recent statistics, at least 15% of Uganda’s population (eight million) is hungry, while over 65% live on less than a dollar a day.
Most poor Ugandans rely on diets consisting largely of micronutrient-poor staple foods.
HarvestPlus sought to improve nutrition by breeding new varieties of staple food crops that are rich in missing critical micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and iron.
Lack of vitamin A impairs growth among children and increases the risk of childhood infections such as diarrhoea.
It can also lead to eye damage and cause blindness. Lack of zinc leads to increased risk to diseases such as pneumonia and stunting among children.
Lack of iron leads to anaemia, especially among pregnant women. Severe anaemia increases the risk of mortality in women during childbirth.
The current efforts to combat micro-nutrient malnutrition in the developing world focuses on providing vitamin and mineral-rich supplements for pregnant women and young children with fortifying foods through post-harvest processing.
Bio-fortification is a new development in agriculture and a tool for improving human health.
The introduction of bio-fortified crops will complement existing nutrition interventions and provide a sustainable and low cost way of reaching people with poor access to formal markets or health care systems.