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The East African : Dec 19th 2015
28 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK DECEMBER 19-25,2015 D E VE LO PME N T Orange-flesh sweet potato the solution to Vitamin A deficiency It is a leading cause of death f≥om infections, especially in child≥en and p≥egnant women By CLIFFORD GIKUNDA Special Correspondent A number of African countries have launched cam- paigns to increase consumption of orange-flesh sweet potatoes in order to combat malnutrition. It is estimated that about one in nine people in the world do not have enough food, most of them from developing countries. One in every four people in sub-Saharan Africa is malnourished, according to data from the World Food Organisation. This malnourishment, which occurs when a person’s diet doesn’t have the right amount of nutrients, is characterised by a Vitamin A deficiency. According to Francis Kweku Amagloh, a human nutritionist and food technologist in Ghana, staple foods on the continent such as maize, cassava, potato, rice, teff and wheat contain insignificant amounts of Vitamin A or beta-carotene. “Intake of orange-flesh sweet potatoes would meet the required daily Vitamin A intake especially for children and lactating mothers,” said Dr Amagloh. Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of preventable childhood blindness and mortality from infections, especially in children and pregnant women. It affects the poorest segments of the population, particularly those in low and middle-income countries. Orange-flesh sweet po- tato is a conventionally bred bio-fortified variety aimed at reducing micronutrient deficiency and is as sweet as the indigenous white-flesh sweet potato. It is an important source of energy and beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body and also contains some vitamin C and iron. According to scientists, 125 grammes of a fresh sweet potato root from most orange-flesh sweet potatoes varieties contains enough betacarotene to provide the daily pro-Vitamin A needs of children and pregnant women. Incorporating orange-flesh “We want to make sure children have at least one meal with orange-flesh sweet potatoes every week.” Haile Tesfay from Ethiopia sweet potato in people’s diets is a difficult task as tubers and roots are not very popular foods. In Ethiopia, teff — a cereal related to wheat — is the most widely consumed cereal. “We emphasise the impor- tance of including tubers and roots as part of a daily diet because they are high in productivity and nutrients,” said Haile Tesfay in Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Cereal production in Ethio- pia has been increasing over the past 10 years, however, malnutrition remains a major problem. “We started with breeding and developing orange-flesh sweet potato seeds and focused on households with young children,” said Dr Tesfay. In order to reduce Vita- min A deficiency in schoolgoing children, a feeding programme was introduced where children from 47 schools were given orangeflesh sweet potatoes with their meals. “We want to make sure children have at least one meal with orangeflesh sweet potatoes every week,” said Dr Tesfay. In Uganda, sweet potatoes are a common staple food in many parts of the country. There are currently five biofortified orange-flesh sweet potato varieties. However, 32 per cent of children under five years still suffer from Vitamin A deficiency and the government is working on improving nutri- The light-rail station in Addis. Majority of Ethiopians live in rural areas where there is little evidence of an economic boom. Picture: File Orange-flesh sweet potatoes. Picture: File BENEFITS Orange-flesh sweet potato is an important source of energy and beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. According to scientists, 125 grammes of a fresh sweet potato root from most orange-flesh sweet potatoes varieties contains enough beta-carotene to provide the daily proVitamin A needs in children and pregnant women. tion and enhancing dietary diversification. It has partnered with re- searchers and development partners to establish and train local seed multipliers to produce orange-flesh sweet potatoes seeds and vines. In Kenya, the government has been promoting folic acid supplements in pregnant mothers by emphasising inclusion of orange-flesh sweet potatoes in their diet. Ethiopia needs aid to tackle sta≥vation By KEVIN J KELLEY Special Correspondent WITH GROWTH rates averaging 10 per cent a year, Ethiopia is challenging Kenya as East Africa’s main magnet for foreign investment. A surge in construction of luxury hotels and high-end shopping malls near the $200 million headquarters of the African Union is likewise distinguishing Addis Ababa as a strong rival to Nairobi for the title of East Africa’s commercial and diplomatic capital. But 80 per cent of Ethio- pia’s 96 million people live in rural areas where there is little evidence of an economic boom. In fact, an estimated 10 million Ethiopians are now considered in danger of starvation. Four senior United Na- tions officials recently published a plea for $1 billion in food aid from international donors, writing, “We need urgent, rapid action to scale up our support to the Ethiopian government and people.” Describing mass malnu- trition and starvation as a long-term possibility, Washington-based Africa analyst Steve McDonald told The EastAfrican, “We are witnessing an inability of the Ethiopian government to plan and provide for its people in contradiction to the face it puts on of rampant economic growth and an equitable governance system.” Assessments by other specialists are not nearly as negative, however. Peter Pham, head of The campaigns want to increase comsumption of orange-flesh sweet potatoes by school-going children for Vitamin A. Picture: File the Africa programme at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, said the hunger crisis is not the product of policy errors by the Ethiopian government. Crop failures in the eastern half of the country are the result of a drought attributed to El Nino’s disruptions of global weather patterns. Prior to the drought, Dr Pham added, Ethiopia had actually managed to boost wheat production by 30 per cent and its rice crop by 10 per cent. Ethiopia has indeed enjoyed “a phenomenal growth cycle,” said Mr McDonald, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. But, he added, it has been achieved “very much at the cost of development for its rural population — none of which would have been noticed had the drought not reared its ugly head.” “There is now equal dis- tribution of development in Ethiopia and this situation is showing exactly where the weaknesses in the government’s policies lie,” said Mr McDonald. Ethiopia remains heav- ily dependent on donor aid even when there is no drought, the Woodrow Wilson scholar said. He cited an International Monetary Fund projection that 16 per cent of the government’s new $11 billion budget is expected to be covered by foreign grants or loans. All Ethiopia-watchers acknowledge that the country is now much better positioned to respond to the threat of mass hunger than was the case in the 1980s. Hundreds of Ethiopians died then in a famine. This time, the govern- ment has set aside $200 million for emergency aid to drought-affected areas. Poverty and chronic mal- nutrition persist at high levels despite an economic growth rate that the IMF ranks as among the five highest in the world. And the drought will not have a sharply negative impact on the country’s overall economic expansion, government officials insist. They say a 10 per cent growth rate remains achievable for 2015.
Dec 12th 2015
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