Nairobi — The International Sweet Potato Centre has launched a $21.25 million research project in Uganda that will develop nutritionally enhanced sweet potatoes, in a project to reduce health problems related to vitamin A deficiency and improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa.
Vitamin A is necessary for good eyesight, healthy skin and for building the immune system.
The centre works in developing countries to help reduce poverty and increase food security through scientific research related to sweet potatoes and other root crops.
The five-year research project, named Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa is one of nine such projects benefiting from the $120 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation investment to support smallscale farmers in Africa and India.
This grant brings to $1.4 billion the amount of money the foundation has committed to agricultural efforts in the world to date.
In addition to nutritional enhancement, the research will employ both conventional methods and biotechnology to create at least 20 locally adapted sweet potatoes varieties resistance to drought, virus and diseases.
Biotechnology will be used to develop weevil resistant varieties.
An earlier study proved that the orange-fleshed sweet potato already in the market can drastically bring down impacts of vitamin A-deficiency that threaten an estimated 43 million children under the age of five in sub- Saharan Africa.
"We have already proven this in South Africa and in western Kenya but we want to see it in action and that is what this project is set out to do," said Dr Robert Mwanga, an expert on the crop.
Sweet potato is the third most important food crop in production in seven East and Central African countries, with Uganda leading at 2.5 million tonnes annual production.
It is an easy crop to grow as it requires less labour and can grow in marginal land and can withstand dry conditions.
Yet the potential of the crop has remained largely untapped.
The project is designed to improve food security and livelihoods of poor families by exploiting the untapped potential of the sweet potato, which includes its use in confectionery and animal feed.