April 18, 2016

Guest Commentary – A New Potato Fights Malnutrition, Hunger, and Poverty

Martin Aroma, 29, and his wife, Harriet Adong, 24, and their two children—Oscar Otim, 18  months, and Emmanuel Ojede, 3—eating a meal of orange flesh sweet potatoes at home. © 2015 Simon Peter Esaku/World Vision

This post originally appeared on Beyond 5. 

By Simon Peter Esaku, World Vision

Over the past three years, World Vision has worked closely with Roger Thurow as he traveled to Uganda to follow several pregnant women—and their children—in the first few years of their lives. Out of this came Thurow’s book, The First 1,000 Days. World Vision’s work supporting the health of mothers and children—and our partnership with USAID and Harvest Plus helping farmers learn to grow, harvest, and sell bio-fortified sweet potatoes—is featured in the book. In this post, you will read about one child’s struggle with malnutrition and how these new potatoes helped save him.

Eighteen months after Emmanuel Ojede was born, he got sick.

“His skin color turned yellow, and his hair became sparse and brown,” says his father, Martin Aroma, 29, at home in Onyapoyere village in northern Uganda.

Emmanuel was referred from the village to a series of four health facilities, finally staying at Lacor Hospital in Gulu, about 37 miles away.

“The doctor in Lacor diagnosed [that] Emmanuel was lacking vitamin A and iron, so he gave Emmanuel vitamin A tablets and iron tablets,” says Martin, who spent one month with his son in Lacor Hospital.

Making sure Emmanuel didn’t get sick again required more than supplements though. It meant changing the foods he ate so he got the proper nutrients. Fortunately, Martin had grown orange flesh sweet potatoes at his home in Onyapoyere. The orange flesh sweet potato—rich in vitamin A—was developed by the International Potato Center and the National Agriculture Research Organization.

“I got 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of the orange flesh sweet potato vines and two kilos (four pounds) of high-iron beans from World Vision in April 2013,” Martin says.

From the vines, he planted a quarter acre of the sweet potatoes the same month. Martin and his wife, Harriet Adong, 24, nourished Emmanuel with the orange flesh sweet potatoes.

“After discharge, we started feeding the child nutritious food combinations, which included orange flesh sweet potatoes, silver fish, eggs, beans, and vegetables,” Martin says. “There was great improvement.”

In 2012, USAID began funding a five-year project partnership between World Vision and Harvest Plus. Simpson Bryahbaho, project coordinator, says the effort aims to reduce micronutrient malnutrition and improve dietary intake of vitamin A and iron among 105,000 households in northern Uganda.

“I had already learned to make nutritious food for children in a World Vision training,” Martin says. It was that project that provided the first vines, high-iron beans, and training to 325 farmers, who were organized into 13 groups in Minakulu subcounty.

These sweet potatoes have turned out to be a food not only for good nutrition but also for food security and income generation.

“We can slice the sweet potatoes, sun dry, store, and eat them when food is scarce,” Harriet says. “I sold some of the sweet potatoes and got 1,457,000 shillings [US$485] and vines for 685,000 shillings [US$230].”

The orange flesh sweet potatoes have saved children like Emmanuel and Martin’s second son, 18-month-old Oscar, from malnutrition and hunger and blessed their homes with more income.

“Because of the knowledge we learned about nutrition, we give our two children balanced diet,” Martin says. “That’s why Oscar … did not develop malnutrition.” 

The First 1,000 Days is available for preorder now. 


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Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Learn more »


Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »