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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid