Food Prize laureate bats for sweet potato

Published - June 01, 2018 06:23 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

In 1996, when Maria Andrade migrated to Mozambique, hardly anyone in the African country spoke of the sweet potato. “If you went to a house and saw people eating the tuber, they would hide it because it was identified with being poor,” she recalls.

An year later, Dr. Andrade, a scientist with the International Potato Centre (CIP), initiated a breeding programme for orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) in the drought-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The project led to the release of nine varieties of the root crop rich in vitamin A, a critical micronutrient for pregnant women and undernourished children.

In 2016, she won the World Food Prize for her role in sweet potato production that helped many countries of Africa address food and nutritional insecurity.

Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the third Asia Sweetpotao Breeders and Seed System meeting here, Dr. Andrade said promotional programmes by CIP and policy initiatives by governments had pitchforked sweet potato to the status of a top priority crop in 14 African countries. “Over a period of 12 years, OFSP has reached five million families across the continent.”

She said that extending the network to Asia would have significant benefits for several countries grappling with malnutrition and hunger. “A networking programme could facilitate exchange of germplasm and sharing of technology for conservation and breeding of crop varieties.”

Dr. Andrade said CIP was working on biofortification of OFSP to improve the content of iron and zinc in the tuber.

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