In Africa, sweet potatoes are proving to be invaluable in the fight against malnutrition. According to a publication by HarvestPlus, the Vitamin A rich Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) was introduced in 2007 to 24,000 farming families in Mozambique and Uganda. The program was presented by HarvestPlus and its partners, specifically targeting women and children who suffer most from vitamin A deficiency.

African farmers are no strangers to sweet potatoes, but they have always grown the paler varieties: yellow and white, which lack beta carotene and other nutrients, while the OFSP does not. The OFSP is a crop that has gone under biofortification.

According to a HarvestPlus research brief, “Biofortification is the process of breeding staple food crops that have a higher micronutrient content.” This process can be carried out conventionally or through genetic engineering. “All crops being released by HarvestPlus and collaborators are conventionally bred.” The seeds and vines of the OFSP can be shared.

Since the sweet potato was already a staple in the diet of Africans, introducing the OFSP was a deliberate strategy to cater to the existing market. In Mozambique and Uganda, the effort succeeded in raising Vitamin A levels by an appreciable margin in women and children.

The sweet potato requires less work than the other staple crops of cassava, wheat and rice, according to the International Potato Center (CIP). It tolerates poor growing conditions better than the other crops and produces better yields with more edible energy per hectare. The sweet potato has previously been grown in small plots but the CIP sees this changing as the OFSP grows in popularity and importance.

USAID, with the support of Feed the Future has introduced the OFSP into Ghana. They hope to eventually reach 300,000 households with women of reproductive age and children under the age of five.

Feed the Future works directly with the government of Ghana to target the poorest households to give them access to the Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato. Feed the Future wrote a Multi-Year Strategy for Ghana (2011-15) to outline its goals, including improved nutrition, especially of women and children, and improved agricultural production in Northern Ghana, especially for small farm holders.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr

The debate over genetically modified organisms has been on the rise for quite some time, but lately the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has issued a warning encouraging physicians to tell their patients to remove GMO foods from their diets.

GMOs are created in a laboratory and then injected into a food source. The injection contains a gene that carries a desirable trait, and is used to give that trait to another food source. This way, farmers are able to give their plants and animals characteristics that are more appealing to consumers.

At first biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto, promoted their biotech foods as a means to feeding those that are living in poverty and not receiving proper nutrients. The GMO food known as “golden rice” was thought to be the answer to malnutrition because it contained the vitamin beta-carotene needed for vitamin A production. Time Magazine stated that golden rice could help end blindness and death in countries that suffer heavily from vitamin A deficiencies.

On the contrary though, golden rice is not the golden ticket to ending world hunger. In fact, GMO foods have been found to do more harm than good.

Firstly, producing golden rice requires expensive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, an expense that would not be affordable in developing countries.

Secondly, water is a major contributor to golden rice thriving, and in countries where vitamin A deficiency is prominent clean water is also usually scarce.

Thirdly, the amount of golden rice needed to properly nourish a healthy young boy is 27 bowls a day, but for a malnourished person the nutrients in golden rice may not even be properly digested in the body. One of Monsanto’s developments was a system known as the Terminator Technology, which genetically forms plant seeds that are sterile. Farmers in developing countries usually save seeds from fertile crops in order to produce their next batch of crops, with this Monsanto system farmers would suffer and potentially starve.

The Institute for Responsible Technology has found that GMOs are huge contributors to health problems, such as immune and gastrointestinal system problems, infertility, trouble with insulin balance and failing organs. The best possible method is to stay away from genetically modified foods. CNN offered a list of ways to keep your diet free of GMOs, some examples included:

  1.  Eating fresh produce, usually they are GMO free.
  2.  Buy foods with the non-GMO-verified seal, as food companies are not required to label that their foods contain GMO.
  3. Always buy wild seafood in order to avoid farm-raised and potentially GMO fish.

As for GMO foods’ relation to poverty, fresh is always healthier, cheaper, and more beneficial in terms of nutrients. GMO has been proven to not yield any higher amount of crops than organic and chemical free crops.

Becka Felcon

Sources: The Food Revolution, CNN, International Business Times, GMO Awareness
Photo: LA Times

Between smartphones, social media, electric cars, and other advances in electronics, technology is a rapidly growing industry. Usually, these advances are pretty well-accepted by the public as they can help increase efficiency, expand creativity, and even reduce our global footprint. What if there was a technology that could potentially end world hunger? Would it be readily embraced?

Genetically modified food has been available for decades and gives farmers the ability to produce more food in less time. Last year, over 17.3 million farmers opted to plant genetically modified food. Over 90% of those farmers were in developing nations that needed any extra food they could get. By 2050, the global population is expected to jump to a staggering 9 billion from the current 6 billion. Many people believe that standard food production methods aren’t enough to satisfy those 9 billion hungry mouths.

Genetically modified food is one area of technology that some people strongly oppose. Because so many people are against agriculture technology of this sort, the political and legal hoops that farmers must jump through to gain approval to plant and sell the products are intense and even hostile. And sometimes unnecessary. Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Davis animal genomics and biotechnology specialist, says “we and our livestock have consumed billions of meals and there hasn’t been one documented case of the [genetically modified] nature of the material consumed causing safety or health problems.” She also claims that in a world where the priority should be placed on feeding its ever growing population, the “absolutely precautionary, prohibitively expensive, time-consuming, uncertain regulatory approach to [genetically modified] plants and animals” is preventing the world from achieving that very goal.

Katie Brockman
Source: Beef Magazine
Photo: Huffington Post