17 December 2012

East Africa: Varsity, Firm Partner to Improve Nutrition

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
A Nairobi city market trader shows his goods.

Dar es Salaam — The International Potatoes Centre (CIP) has partnered with Sokoine University (SUA) to start implementing the project of sensitizing the public on the benefit of using orange fleshed sweet potatoes.

The two institutions said the use of orange fleshed sweet potatoes would enable people to get rid of Vitamin A deficiency which is affecting many African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Speaking to East African Business Week during the workshop of facilitators from Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda in Morogoro last week, the Dean, Faculty of Agricultural of SUA, Prof Bendantungula Tiisekwa said that over 33% of children under-five-year and 37% of women of the reproductive age face Vitamin A deficiency.

Although the government has been providing vitamin A drops to children at clinics, the problem still persists therefore CIP and international institute, Hellen Keller, has started the implementation of 'Reaching Agents of Change (RAC)'.

Prof Tiisekwa said the project which is sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will give education to different stakeholders on the importance of orange fleshed sweet potatoes as a way of increasing Vitamin A to citizen of those countries in the EAC region.Vitamin A deficiency is a nutritional disorder that mainly afflicts people in developing countries. The most obvious results of vitamin A deficiency are progressive damage to the eyes eventually leading to blindness.

According to Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC), it is estimated that more than 250,000 pre-school children go blind each year due deficiency in Vitamin A.

TFNC said that sub clinical vitamin A deficiency is a much more widespread problem, contributing to an increased risk of morbidity and mortality from common childhood infections.

"The prevalence of sub clinical vitamin A deficiency in infants fed breast milk suggests that lactating women in developing countries may also have insufficient stores of vitamin A," TFNC said.

Sweet potato is one of the world's most important food crops in terms of human consumption, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

First domesticated more than 5,000 years ago in Latin America, it is grown in more developing countries than any other root crop.

Despite its name, sweet potato is not related to the potato. It is a root, not a tuber, and belongs to the morning-glory family. Many parts of the plant are edible, including leaves, roots, vines, and varieties exist with a wide range of skin and flesh color, from white to yellow-orange and deep purple.

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