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

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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid