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A large number of Ugandan women and children were consuming insufficient amounts of vitamin-A. The prevalence of vitamin-A deficiency and xerophthalmia in Uganda stands at 2.52% and 5.4% respectively, though it is estimated that about 50% children consume insufficient amounts of vitamin-A.
The lack of vitamin-A was having an adverse effect on child survival after birth and the growth and health of children. In fact, the general growth patterns among children under 5 are, in most cases, below the average recommended standards.
60% of under-5 children in south-west Uganda fall below the median WHO Child Growth Standards for height, while the national average of underweight children under the age of 5 is estimated at 13.8%.
A possible solution is the consumption of orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) which is rich in vitamin-A.
The ‘innovative, integrated approach to enhance smallholder family nutrition’ project was carried out in four districts of Uganda, with funding from Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) through World Bank. The aim was to adopt nutrient-rich staple crops (particularly OFSP) by introducing a set of integrated interventions in nutrition and agriculture. According to the project, orange-fleshed sweet potato can potentially contribute in the reduction of malnutrition by helping to reduce the vitamin-A deficiency.
80% of the Ugandan demographic consists of rural agricultural households, and therefore, it is crucial to involve them in improving household nutrition.
It is also important to provide a solution that is practical and accessible to the target population. Biofortified crop production (in this case OFSP) was found to be an efficient and effective solution, and relatively affordable for the population.
Due to the fact that local sweet potato is a common staple crop in Uganda, OFSP is a good alternative. The local farmers are able to engage in its production, and they along with members of their households can consume it. Any excess can be sold in the local market, thus making it readily available to everyone residing in the area.
Additionally, by consuming OFSP they would not only get vitamin-A, but also carbohydrates, naturally. The fortified method of consuming vitamin-A, which would involve buying the vitamin capsules or mixtures, would be more expensive and harder to access for the average rural household.
Based on the findings of the project, production and consumption of OFSP was seen to be higher among the intervention groups. Only 4% consumed OFSP in the comparison group, while consumption ranged between 24% to 70% in different interventions.
This indicates that OFSP is an effective method of addressing the vitamin-A deficiency at the household level, if an integrated approach is utilised. This solution is not limited to the Ugandan context, but can also be a viable solution in other countries.
Challenges remain in guaranteeing year-round vitamin-A consumption for the households, since the orange-fleshed sweet potato is a seasonal crop. A possible solution could be making a powder from OFSP, but this would require a processing plant. Furthermore, the question of whether or not the people would adopt using the powder persists, as they are not habituated to consuming the powder.
Md A Saleque is an adviser in agriculture and livestock, BRAC International. Maisha Chowdhury is an intern in agriculture and livestock, BRAC International.