Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament Launches Up-scaling of Orange Sweet Potato

From left to right; Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, Dr. Goretti Semakula, a researcher based at NARO, Ms. Jo LEsser-Oltheten, USAID's Director of Economic Growth, and Ms. Sylvia Magezi, the Country Manager of HarvestPlus

HarvestPlus recently launched the up-scaling of orange sweet potato in Uganda at an event marked by participation of key partners and dignitaries. The event was launched under the theme, “Biofortification: A new way to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.”

Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament, Ms. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga participated in this launch event on February 11, 2015. She said,

“Let me take this opportunity to officially launch the scaling of the orange sweet potato in Uganda and recommend it to farmers, agricultural extension advisors and the general public.”

 The Speaker was the official guest of honor for the HarvestPlus launch event.

The OSP project is targeted to reduce Vitamin A deficiency, which has affected 33% of children and 35% of women in Uganda. This deficiency is known to cause eye damage, measles and diarrheal diseases in children. Ms. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga emphasized the critical role of Vitamin A orange sweet potato to improve nutrition and promote better health conditions. She also acknowledged the importance of the scaling up of OSP and applauded HarvestPlus’ initiative in Uganda.

The event was well attended by HarvestPlus and its key partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is now funding efforts to provide 285,000 Ugandan farming households with orange sweet potato, as part of the US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The event also attracted wide local support from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), many farmers’ organizations and schools in Uganda.

The launch event was featured in a special report in “The Nutritionist” magazine. The benefits of the orange sweet potato project was covered by one of the popular TV stations of Uganda as a prime time show.

Global Panel Launches New Policy Brief on Biofortification

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition has just released a new policy brief focused on biofortification. Titled Biofortification: An Agricultural Investment for Nutrition, the brief urges policymakers to adopt biofortification as a “nutrient-sensitive national agricultural research and investment strategy.”

It includes technical evidence on the nutritional benefits of biofortified crops, particularly for children and women from rural populations in low and middle-income countries where micronutrient deficiencies (or ‘hidden hunger’) are prevalent. It also highlights some of the biofortified crops that have been released to date and are being grown by farmers in 27 developing countries. Such crops include vitamin A orange sweet potato, cassava, and maize, zinc rice and wheat, and iron beans and pearl millet.

Moreover, the brief showcases Nigeria as a successful example of a developing country whose government has embraced biofortification among strategies to improve nutrition and food security. Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Akinwumi Adesina is a strong advocate of expanding access to biofortified crops. “The challenge is no longer the science for biofortification—we know it works; our challenge as policymakers is to scale up biofortified crops to reach millions of households through institutional, regulatory and financial policy,” he stated at a major conference last year.

The Global Panel’s policy brief encourages policymakers to adopt biofortification as an important element among a suite of complementary strategies to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. It concludes with a list of recommendations for scaling up biofortification, a theme that the Panel previously addressed during the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, last year.

The policy brief was launched at an event hosted by the United Kingdom’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development.

Will Biofortification Work?

As a new strategy in the global campaign to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, breeding nutritious staple food crops (biofortification) and getting them to millions of people worldwide is no longer just an idea; some half a million people are already planting or eating such crops, be it iron beans, vitamin A orange sweet potato, maize or cassava in Africa, or iron pearl millet in India.

Biofortification seeks to provide, through the foods that people eat regularly, the vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that are essential to a healthy life. Without these micronutrients, people are less likely to reach their full potential. Micronutrient deficiencies can impair the mental and physical development of infant children and adolescents, resulting in lower IQ, stunting, and even blindness. They also reduce the productivity of adult men and women due to increased risk of illness and reduced work capacity. This condition, also known as hidden hunger, affects one in three people globally.

Howarth Bouis is the director of HarvestPlus, a global program to develop and disseminate biofortified crops. In this short video, Bouis answers three questions that need to be asked--and answered-- if biofortification is to be an effective strategy to improve nutrition and public health: