News / Africa

Healthy Crop's Image Problem Gets a Makeover

Ad campaign promotes eating orange sweet potatoes to fight vitamin A deficiency

Orange-shirted women promote the health benefits of the orange-fleshed sweet potato during a community theater performance in Uganda.
Orange-shirted women promote the health benefits of the orange-fleshed sweet potato during a community theater performance in Uganda.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

It's delicious. It's nutritious. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the orange-fleshed sweet potato has an image problem.

Unlike white- and yellow-fleshed varieties commonly found in Africa, orange sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A.

These vitamin-packed root vegetables could help fight vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency leads to death from serious illness for as many as 250,000 children each year. Twice that many develop night blindness, another common result of vitamin A deficiency.

A little sweet potato could go a long way to solving that problem.

"One root a day would get you set for vitamin A," says Jan Low. She is leading a project at the International Potato Center, a major global research center, to increase consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, where vitamin A deficiency is a major public health problem.

'Crop of the poor'

But, Low adds, "We do have an image problem with the sweet potato. It's seen as a crop of the poor."

Low says sweet potatoes are mainly grown by poor women because they can rely on the vegetable to feed their families if the maize crop fails.

To make orange sweet potatoes acceptable to a wider audience, she says, you have to make people want it. And that means advertising and marketing.

"Look at Coca-Cola," Low says. "There's a product that's managed to spread to the remotest corners of the world through marketing. Why aren't we doing that with good food crops?"

A market vendor in Uganda promotes vitamin A-rich orange sweet potatoes.
A market vendor in Uganda promotes vitamin A-rich orange sweet potatoes.

Potato promotion

Low worked on a research project in four districts in Mozambique and three in Uganda that took to the streets, markets and airwaves to relay information about the nutritional benefits of the orange-fleshed sweet potato.

Radio ads touted the tuber's power to "fight diseases, make you strong, clear your skin and make you look healthy."

In remote areas where radio does not reach, they spread the sweet potato message through community-theater performances - complete with singing, dancing and storytelling.

And everywhere they went, promoters wore orange t-shirts and hats. They painted billboards and market stalls orange. They drove orange vehicles. At a recent conference in Washington, DC, Jan Low could be seen walking the halls in an orange dress.

"Orange color actually proved to be an effective tool for building an orange brand to promote the sweet potato and become associated with good health," she says.

They even came up with slogans to include in all their marketing efforts. In Mozambique they used the phrase, "O doce que dá saúde," which, in Portuguese, means, "the sweet that gives health."

Optimism

Low has not yet published research on what impact they are having. But she sees indications that the message is getting through.

She says, "The traders in the markets cut a little bit off the end of the sweet potato and they make a little round piece of it and they stick it on top [of their merchandise]. And as you're walking by they say, 'This is the vitamin-rich one! This is the vitamin-rich one!'"

Dan Gustafson, head of the Washington, DC, office of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, is optimistic about the effort to bring the orange-fleshed sweet potato to sub-Saharan Africa. He says the history books are littered with well-intentioned efforts to introduce crops that produce more, or resist diseases or have some other benefit.

"Most of those have ended in failure," he says, because they did not take into account what consumers wanted.

But the difference between orange sweet potatoes and the sweet potatoes African consumers already eat is not that big, he says.

"Because you've got advertising, and you've got a difference that isn't radical, I think it will work," Gustafson adds.

With the help of an image make-over, Gustafson says the orange-fleshed sweet potato can play a substantial part in reducing malnutrition in some of the world's poorest places.

You May Like

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid