Originally published December 23 2014
As GMOs fail, Mozambique farmers turn to natural sweet potatoes to improve nutrition, yields and income
by Julie Wilson staff writer
(NaturalNews) In an attempt to curb vitamin A deficiencies, Mozambican researchers have worked tirelessly to create a non-genetically modified (GM), vitamin-enriched sweet potato that comes in multiple varieties suitable for the climates in which they'll grow, according to a new report by SciDev.net.
Dubbed the Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) initiative, an estimated 135,000 smallholder farmers in Mozambique, half of whom are women, are expected to begin growing the new varieties in an effort to provide a rich source of vitamin A.
Approximately 70 percent of people residing in Mozambique suffer from vitamin A deficiencies, most of them women and children under the age of five. Medium- to deep-orange-colored sweet potatoes provide the most nutrition, as they're rich in beta-carotene, a building block for vitamin A. Just a half of cup of boiled or mashed orange sweet potatoes provides a child under five with adequate daily vitamin A intake, according to ReliefWeb.int.
Vitamin-enriched sweet potatoes yield 20-25 metric tons a hectare, compared with 10 metric tons for ordinary varieties
The new sweet potatoes, which come in eight "top-yielding varieties," have quickly gained momentum due to word of mouth regarding their high-yielding capabilities, as well as female farmers' existing familiarity with growing the crop.
Launched in the 1990s, OFSP is sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Mozambican government, which provided more than $1 million in funding. More than 15 years of research resulted in 58 crops samples being imported from countries like China, Kenya, Tanzania and the U.S., with the first large-scale field testing conducted by the south Mozambique branch of the International Potato Center (CIP), a global research-for-development organization focused on roots and tubers.
More than a decade of research results in natural, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes resistant to drought and heavy rains
Eight varieties were identified by the CIP as producing good yields, according to reports; however, the research wasn't always smooth sailing. In 2000, test plots were destroyed after the region, which is prone to flooding, experienced widespread floods in the low-lying areas of Mozambique.
After the flood, USAID and the Mozambican government devised a plan to distribute the eight top-yielding varieties to an estimated 120,000 households.
Heavy rains aren't the only complication for growers, as drought, which occurs every three to four years in the country's southern and central regions, poses another major challenge. With help from Helen Keller International, 15 strains were developed. Eight of those drought-resistant, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were successfully trialed in seven of the country's 11 provinces in 1999, according to SciDev.net.
"The sweet potatoes are also easy to cultivate and to harvest, compared with ordinary varieties, and they allow farmers to improve incomes, too, as demand for the vitamin A-rich potatoes grows."
The creative uses for sweet potatoes in African countries
Sweet potatoes have been an important food staple in Africa after they were introduced by the Portuguese centuries ago, according to NPR. However, the first sweet potatoes that arrived were white or yellow, not orange, and therefore did not contain beta-carotene.
In Uganda, amukeke, or sun-dried sweet potatoes, are often eaten for breakfast topped with peanut sauce and accompanied by a cup of tea. Inginyo, or sun-dried crushed sweet potatoes, are mixed with cassava flour and tamarind (sticky, brown acidic pulp from the tamarind tree), forming a food called atapa. This is usually eaten with smoked fish cooked in peanut sauce, according to Sweetsp.com.
The sweet potato's vine tips and leave are used as a vegetable in several African countries, highlighting the crop's versatility in terms of nutrition.
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