- Vitamin A deficiency occurs when the intake of vitamin A is less than the body needs or if the body cannot absorb vitamin A properly due to disease or infection.
- In addition to causing premature blindness, VAD compromises the immune system, and can increase the risk of illness and death from diseases such as malaria and measles.
- Each year, up to 500,000 children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency. Half of them die within twelve months of going blind.
- The adverse effects of VAD are heightened in developing countries, where abject poverty often prevents people from eating and growing more nutritious food. In such areas, the development and dissemination of highly nutritional, fortified crop varieties has lagged behind that of more developed countries.
- HKI’s work with orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes (OFSP) began in 1997 as a collaborative project with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) in Niger. Since then, partners have grown to include the International Potato Center (CIP), the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), and the HarvestPlus Challenge Program.
- These agricultural research organizations have made significant progress in engineering OFSP varieties that thrive in different growing conditions, produce a high crop yield and achieve high acceptance levels among producers and consumers.
- Compared to the traditionally-grown white-fleshed sweetpotato, the OFSP has high levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A.
- Recent research has shown that just one small root (100-125 grams) of an OFSP provides primary school children with over twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.
- HKI’s role is to develop educational and social marketing programs, including behavior change communications and other strategies to increase OFSP demand, advocate for OFSP adoption at national and sub-national levels, and provide training and supervision to front-line distributors such as agricultural extension workers, community groups and farmers.
- HKI forges partnerships with key governmental, research and non-governmental partners to ensure long-term commitment and a potential to scale up the program, and to convince producers of white-fleshed sweetpotatoes to switch to producing the more nutritious orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes.
- The distribution of OFSP planting material and nutrition education has been successfully integrated into school and community gardening activities since 2003. Typically, a village nursery is set up in a school and groups of 30 to 35 women or other volunteers receive cuttings, planting materials and recommendations on the use of organic fertilizers.
- HKI staff, or agricultural extension workers trained by HKI, help producers and producer groups set up and maintain the village nurseries and ensure the distribution of cuttings within every village.