ORANGE Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) programme could help boost children nutrition and save lives, stakeholders have observed. A sociologist, Mr Moses Mnzava, said on Tuesday during a stakeholders' workshop that over the past decade over 600,000 children aged below five years were estimated to have died due to inadequate nutrition.
"The primary justification for OFSP adoption as a strategy to combat Vitamin A deficiency is in fact that while sweet potato varieties are good sources of Vitamin C, E and K as well as several B vitamins, only orange fleshed has pro-vitamin A," he said.
Mr Mnzava advocated that OFSP as a staple food, has an advantage over most vegetables and can supply significant amounts of Vitamin A and energy simultaneously thus helping to address both Vitamin A deficiency and under nutrition and has a superior comparative advantage over some other beta carotene rich vegetables when cooked.
According to statistics in 2010 alone, 43,000 children were likely to die prematurely because of malnutrition, which averages to one child dying every 12 minutes," he revealed.
The OSFP programme which is being ran by the Reaching Agents of Change project is an intervention designed to intervene and combat Vitamin A Deficiency in the country and advocates for adoption of OFSP to increase in Vitamin A intake.
Mr Mnzava said that it had also been established that the nutritional status of women was alarming, with about 40 per cent of women of child bearing age anaemic.He explained that despite a substantial number of women being anaemic, only 4 per cent of them took the recommended iron and folic acid dosage for 90 or more days during their most recent pregnancy.
Like other developing countries, Tanzania's main health and nutrition challenges are related to undernourishment rather than over-nutrition as protein-energy deficiency,iron deficiency anaemia, iodine deficiency disorders and Vitamin A deficiency.
He said that apart from the nutritious advantage, OFSP has the flexibility of planting and harvesting times of sweet potatoes that can provide roots and leaves throughout the year irrespective of the climate and agricultural season.
USAID's programme Tanzania Agriculture Productivity Programme (TAPP) Technical Services Director, Gary Tomlins concurred with Mr Mnzava's thoughts vouching that there was need to add more value to sweet potatoes among consumers.Mr Tomlins told the 'Daily News' that he was excited about the start of the OFSP project that was now in its formulation of an advocacy and resources mobilisation strategy stage.
He said that being in a project that dealt with smallholder farmers, the sweet potato project would be an extra asset to indulge in especially when you take into consideration the crop serves both as a cash crop and by consuming it, the family of the farmer will be getting much needed Vitamin A.
"I have heard from the meeting that unlike the white fleshed potato, the orange is priced higher. The task that lies ahead of us is to get the consumers to go for the higher priced one because of its nutritious value," he proposed.
He said that however much one looks at it, sweet potatoes ticked all the boxes in that it is a crop that can be eaten, sold, grown and that by raising its importance to the farmers and consumer, people can have better lives financially and healthy wise.
Tanzania Exporters Association Vice-Chairman and Buturi Investments Managing Director, Mr Peter Lanya said that the OFSP project created an extra opportunity for farmers.Mr Lanya said that his company had since 2010 ventured into the exportation of white fleshed sweet potatoes to Dubai which is the collection point to the Middle East and he hadn't regretted his decision.
"When he began, we exported three 40 feet containers and the following year we sent out six containers. We plan this year to export at least ten containers and prospects of increasing them are there as the prices continue to soar," he said.
He said that taking into consideration that there were many policies formulated and not being adhered to, the OFSP project should just start being implemented and that as many sweet potato varieties should be available for mass production as he wasn't in doubt in getting a ready market.