Orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes—like these propagated by a Kenyan farmer—may improve nutrition.
The orange-fleshed sweetpotato brings Kenyan communities together to reduce under-nutrition and poverty
The idea is to encourage mothers to get the health care they need and increase consumption of the orange-fleshed sweetpotato, a nutritional powerhouse that holds promise for reducing under-nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.
Linking agriculture and health
PATH is working with the International Potato Center (CIP) and other partners in Kenya to explore how linking agricultural and health services may improve production and consumption of the vitamin A-rich sweetpotato. These varieties of sweetpotato can significantly lessen vitamin A deficiency that threatens an estimated 43 million sub-Saharan children under age 5. Vitamin A deficiency contributes to high rates of blindness, disease, and premature death in children and pregnant women.
The project, called Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA), is a key component of CIP’s 10-year, multidonor Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative to improve the food security and livelihoods of 10 million poor families in sub-Saharan Africa.
Vouchers for vines
Upon visiting their local health facility for prenatal care, women taking part in the project get vouchers for sweetpotato planting material. In the first four months of distribution at four health facilities, 836 women received the vouchers and more than 500 redeemed them for vines. Follow-up visits to the homes of 216 women who picked up the vines found that 81 percent had planted them.
Profitable vine-multiplying ventures increase the chances that supplies of sweetpotato in communities will continue to be adequate after the project ends.
The women trade their vouchers with local farmers for six-kilogram starter packets of sweetpotato vines. The farmers, in turn, are reimbursed by the project at about US$1 per three kilograms of vines distributed. Some vine multipliers may also have surplus planting material, which they can sell on the open market. Profitable vine multiplying ventures increase the chances that supplies of sweetpotato in communities will continue to be adequate after the project ends.
One of the first facilities to distribute vouchers, Tamlega Dispensary reported a 30 percent increase in first-time visits by pregnant women in their first and second trimesters during the first month of the project, compared to average attendance of first-time visits in the previous three months. If the result is repeated at other clinics, the voucher program may prove to be a tool that helps prenatal care nurses serve more women earlier in their pregnancies. The visits give nurses the chance to teach women about healthy habits during pregnancy and after their babies are born.
“Yes, there is an increase in my workload,” said one Tamlega nurse when asked if the program had added to her work. But, she said, “If more pregnant women come in today, it will reduce our health center’s workload tomorrow since women will learn how to take care of themselves and their children and have better information on healthy practices and nutrition.”
Photo: PATH/Carol Levin.