Roger Thurow and Chicago Council Research Associate Louise Iverson outline the important role of fortified crops in ensuring good nutrition during the first 1,000 days, for Devex’s Future Fortified series.
In a rural village in northern Uganda, Aron, a bright-eyed and playful 15-month-old toddler, eagerly gobbled up a lunch of sweet potatoes and greens. His mother, Brenda, a smallholder farmer like many women in sub-Saharan Africa, cultivated and harvested this meal in her nearby fields.
These sweet potatoes, though, weren’t the ordinary sweet potatoes of Africa, which have white or yellow flesh that provide calories but little in the way of nutrients. These are biofortified, betacarotene-enriched orange sweet potatoes, developed by Ugandan scientists, and being disseminated by an organization called HarvestPlus to combat Vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A deficiency affects 200 million women and children worldwide, and is associated with increased risk of death among children, as well as vision disorders which can lead to blindness. Vitamin A deficiency accounts for more than 600,000 deaths globally among children under 5. In Uganda, about one-third of children under 5 and women of childbearing age suffer from vitamin A deficiency. While vitamin A supplements are a treatment option, they are costly, and the supply and distribution can be unreliable, particularly in rural areas.