Aug 17, 2012 06:11 AM EDT | By Sharon Robinson
Africa is famous for having an under-nourished and malnourished population. Most people are found to have a micronutrient deficiency of some sort, with Vitamin A deficiency being one of the most common.
However, a new and improved sweet potato may be the answer to Vitamin A deficiency, which when severe, could lead to blindness and premature death. The deficiency is found to be most common in children.
Orange sweet potato, an integral part of the American thanksgiving feast, is found to be rich in beta-carotene, a type of Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is also what lends the vegetable its orange color. Unfortunately, the white and yellow varieties of sweet potatoes are more common in Africa. These do not contain enough nutrients in them to prevent vitamin deficiencies.
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Howarth Bouis, an economist at the of International Food Policy Research Institute, in Washington DC, has been working with local health experts to promote a variety of orange sweet potato which has been engineered to be rich in vitamins, according to NPR.
The underlying principle is bio-fortification, the process by which fruits and vegetables are engineered to be richer in micro and macro-nutrients.
At first, it was not very well received. People feared that it might prove to be too expensive for the poor to afford. But, since it was not a completely new vegetable and was inexpensive, people soon began growing it.
Moreover, after promoting it for almost 20 years, positive effects of the consumption of this variety of sweet potato are being observed in Uganda and Mozambique. The results of the study of the effects of the orange sweet potato were published this week in the Journal of Nutrition.
Around 827 households, who grew the crop, were studied. These households were those which experienced high levels of poverty. Over the course of the study, the health of women and children was found to have improved significantly, with a marked decrease in Vitamin A deficiency.
Bouis and other health experts hope that many more households would soon begin growing orange sweet potatoes.