A researcher who has championed the adoption of orange fleshed potatoes in Kenya and Sub Saharan Africa tackling Vitamin A deficiency has been named 2016 Word Food Prize laureate.
Jan Low who works with the International Potato Center in Nairobi has been a crusader for the consumption of orange fleshed sweet potato in a campaign that has led to almost 2 million households in 10 African countries adopting and consuming the biofotified sweet potatoes.
To establish an evidence base that nutritionists could rely on, she conducted a major study among poor African communities in 2005—with support from USAID, the Micronutrient Initiative, and the Rockefeller Foundation—demonstrating that consumption of orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) led to a 15 percent decline in Vitamin A deficiency in children who consumed a daily portion of OFSP compared to children who did not.
Vitamin A deficiency is classified as one of the leading causes of malnutrition, blindness and death for children under the age of 5. Studies estimate that Vitamin A deficiency threatens an estimated 43 million Sub-Saharan children under age 5.
Over the past decade Low has spearheaded an integrated approach combining agriculture, nutrition and marketing to introduce OFSP, which is nutritionally superior to the dominant white-fleshed varieties in Africa that have no beta carotene. Previous attempts to introduce OFSP had consistently failed in part because the texture of the more nutrient-dense OFSP couldn’t match the drier consistency preferred by African adults. Working with plant breeders, Low pushed programs that combined beta carotene traits with locally adapted varieties that are disease-resistant, drought-tolerant and possess the more favored dry-fleshed consistency.
She will share the $250,000 with three other scientists who have spearheaded human development while combating hunger through improving the quality, quantity and availability of food. They include Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, and Howarth Bouis
“These four extraordinary World Food Prize Laureates have proven that science matters, and that when matched with dedication, it can change people’s lives,” said USAID Administrator Gayle Smith. “USAID and our Feed the Future partners are proud to join with renowned research organizations to support critical advances in global food security and nutrition.”
In announcing the names of the 2016 Laureates, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize, noted “they are truly worthy to be named as the recipients of the award that Dr. Norman E. Borlaug created to be seen as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture”.