Investigating the link between health and agriculture

In rural Africa, families face tough decisions every day, including choices between enough food and the right kind of food. It can be hard to meet even basic nutritional standards, such as adequate vitamin A—especially among vulnerable groups like pregnant women and very young children.

That’s where the orange-fleshed sweet potato comes in. PATH is researching whether an integrated program that provides pregnant women with sweet potato seedlings through community health and antenatal care services can reverse the course of vitamin A deficiency—and support healthy growth in children while strengthening defenses against infectious disease, especially diarrhea.

There’s strong evidence that orange-fleshed sweet potatoes—which are rich in vitamin A and easy to grow—can indeed help, boosting energy and reducing malnutrition at the same time. The impact could be highest in the poorest households—where most food is grown, not bought, and where the pressure on food supplies is great.

Before PATH can design, implement, and evaluate a program like this in the field, we have many questions to answer for communities, collaborators, and funders. In 2008, we compiled a rich base of information and began initial outreach: reaching across sectors to find partners addressing global and national agriculture needs, setting up a process for selecting pilot communities, and engaging local leaders. The results of this work and any further exploration will support decisions about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes—and global understanding of how agriculture and public health intersect.


International Potato Center

Photo: PATH/Carol Levin.

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Bags of sweet potato plants in a field
PATH is integrating nutrition, community health, and antenatal care efforts to provide pregnant women and very young children with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, a rich source of vitamin A.

This project received innovation funding at a critical point in its development.