Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is one of the major health threats in sub Saharan Africa, with an estimated 42.4 % of children under 5-years-old at risk. The health consequences of VAD can be devastating; including blindness, growth disturbances, and even premature death. Pregnant and lactating mothers are especially vulnerable and at high risk for malformation of the baby and/or premature birth.
Sweet potatoes are a staple food in many African countries and play an important role in food security. Although they are not a staple food in Kenya, where maize is unfortunately the preferred crop, growing yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes can greatly add to improved nutrition and food security. However, there has been a tremendous reduction in sweet potato production in the counties of Kakamega and Vihiga. One of the reasons for this decline is that farmers repeatedly share planting material, which is often diseased resulting in ever-decreasing yields. The importance of access to clean, disease-free planting material, together with advice on how to grow and prepare the crop, cannot be underestimated.
The International Potato Center (CIP) has trained our staff in all aspects of OFSP production. We buy planting material from CIP and train all of our farmers groups, schools and mother-support groups on how to propagate the vines for multiplication. These vines are then passed on to more farmers and any other parties interested in the crop. This has resulted in a wide distribution of the potatoes in the area where we work. Raising awareness of the importance of Vitamin A is done through our Nutrition Education Program and Food Fairs, where farmers groups, mother support groups, and schools are learning how to prepare a variety of recipes using OFSPs. We are also trying to teach our farmers to consume the highly nutritious leaves of the plant, as is commonly practiced in South America and the Pacific Regions. We also encourage solar drying of the potatoes to extend the availability of the produce, which is particularly important during periods of food shortage.