In Mozambique’s Mucuba district - Zambezia province, a group of women farmers break into celebratory songs as we arrive in their village. From the local language they are singing in, I pick up a mention of Vitamin A. A local translator informs us, they are rejoicing over benefits derived from the biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP)—rich in Vitamin A —introduced to them over three years ago.
In October, 2014, the International Potato Center (CIP) launched a robust project—Viable Sweetpotato Technologies for Africa (VISTA)—that aimed to get OFSP directly into the hands of 65,100 Mozambican households with another 260,000 households indirectly benefitting from improved OFSP varieties and technologies. The project was designed to expand the production and utilization of nutritious OFSP in 11 districts of Nampula Province and 5 districts of Zambézia Province. With funding from USAID’s “Feed the Future” initiative, the project was rolled out in collaboration with government partners including the Mozambican Agrarian Research Institute, the District Services of Economics Activities (SDAE), and the District Services of Health and Women and Social Action, as well as by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs), and education and research institutions.
Investments in research and development over the last few years have generated improved technologies for sweetpotato which have in turn greatly improved nutrition, income and food security among vulnerable households in Africa and Asia.
For women in Nampula and Zambezia provinces, having access to improved sweetpotato technologies meant growing and consuming OFSP varieties such as the popular climate smart Irene whose narrow leaves can be eaten as a vegetable 60 days after planting, while roots are ready to harvest after 100 days. Malira José, one of the women beneficiaries meeting us in Mucuba explains,
“previously, we only had the local sweetpotato varieties. We did not know about OFSP or how to grow and incorporate it in our diets. We did not know that juice can be made to feed our children.”
Between 2014-2019, the VISTA project working closely with local government health extension officers in Nampula and Zambezia provinces, has reached about 74,000 families with children under five years of age. They received trainings on sweetpotato agronomy and nutrition. Furthermore, pregnant and lactating women received continuous training on the importance of postnatal and antenatal health care, breastfeeding and eating a balanced diet. Subsequently, 94,400 children under five (25,700 were under two years of age) benefitted following nutrition trainings.
Lucia Claudina, another beneficiary confirms that OFSP, now locally grown by many women, is one of the foods given to children during complementary feeding from six to 59 months. She adds that available markets for the root need to be strengthened to ensure the surplus can be sold ensuring a source of income for the women.