The color difference between white and orange sweet potatoes seems superficial — but in Africa, the campaign to consume more beta-carotene-rich orange sweet potatoes is preventing blindness, illness and death to children in Mozambique and Uganda. How does such a simple change have such a big impact?Biofortification is the process of adding important nutrients to food by breeding better varieties of the staple crops people already eat. While some breeders are genetically modifying crops to make them more nutritious, a group called HarvestPlus came up with a more low-tech solution to the problem of vitamin A deficiency in Africa: they distributed orange sweet potatoes to subsistence farmers that were growing the more common white and yellow varieties.
Orange sweet potatoes have taken off in Mozambique and Uganda, where the campaign was launched, and researchers have found that children now have higher levels of vitamin A. HarvestPlus is expanding its efforts, distributing new varieties of iron-rich beans in Rwanda and a type of orange corn which is high in beta carotene in Zambia. According to NPR: "It's a sign that a new approach to improving nutrition among the world's poor might actually work."
Anjali is a former private chef who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, with plans to become a registered dietitian. She lives in Los Angeles. You can read more of her health-focused writing at Eat Your Greens.
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