What’s sweet potatoes got to do with it?

ONE Global Creative Director Roxane Philson explains why sweet potatoes are superheroes in the fight against child malnutrition.

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Earlier today, Colin Farrell sent an email to hundreds of thousands of ONE members asking them to do one thing: Urge world leaders to make commitments to reduce chronic child malnutrition for 25 million children by 2016. As they signed the nutrition petition, they probably couldn’t help but notice a funny-looking orange-fleshed fellow on the left side of the page — our unlikely mascot, our unsung hero, the humble sweet potato!

DIDN’T GET THE EMAIL? Sign the petition here.

But what do tasty orange sweet potatoes have to do with malnutrition, a scourge that claims the lives of well over three million children a year? They have the power (or shall we say “superpower” since we’re talking about heroes, here) to provide much-needed nutrients like vitamins C, A and B6 to undernourished children, helping to avert stunting and ensuring proper growth. On top of that, sweet potatoes are relatively cheap to produce and easy to grow in uncertain conditions, perfect for regions prone to drought and famine.

Growing Sweet Potatoes in Tanzania
Sweet potato farmers in Tanzania

Although more than 7 million tons of sweet potatoes are produced each year and are widely eaten in Africa, they’re not the kind that have essential nutrients. They’re white in color and low in vitamin A, a vitamin that helps prevent blindness and infant mortality. But several years ago, a Ugandan breeder, in collaboration with an international research association, developed a new orange-colored variety of sweet potato that is loaded with orange-hued beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.

Growing Sweet Potatoes in Tanzania
Growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in Tanzania

More than 24,000 households received the orange sweet potato vine to harvest in a pilot in Uganda and Mozambique between 2007 and 2009. The program resulted in increases in orange sweet potato adoption and consumption. Impressively, vitamin A intake by women and children as much as doubled. For children 6 to 35 months, who are especially vulnerable, the orange sweet potatoes contributed more than 50 percent of their total vitamin A intake.

Innovations like the orange-fleshed sweet potato are flipping malnutrition on its head, but farmers in the developing world need the support of world leaders to make these and other nutrient-rich crops more widespread. And that’s precisely why we’re calling on them to make a measurable, meaningful commitment to reduce chronic child malnutrition for 25 million kids by 2016. So take action now. Sign our petition today.

Signed our petition and want to do more? Great — because there’s lots more you can do to help make the humble sweet potato a star:

1) Submit a recipe for a healthy sweet potato dish in our digital cookbook. Go to http://recipe4change.tumblr.com and click on the submit button on the lefthand side of the page. Write up your recipe (it doesn’t have to be original — you can take it from your favorite cooking blog) and upload a photo if you’d like, then click submit. We’ll review it then post it to the site for other ONE members to check out when the campaign goes out. At the end of each week, we’ll give the user with the most total loves and comments on their recipe a ONE goody bag.

2) Post a photo of a sweet potato dish (or anything, really) to Instagram. Make sure you tag it with #recipe4change. We’ll post a feed of your Instagram photos on our petition page for ONE members to like, comment and share. More details here.

3) Repin ONE members’ sweet potato recipes on Pinterest. Check out our Sweet Potato board and get pinning.

4) Help us generate heat on World Food Day, October 16th. Download our toolkit here to learn more.

By putting sweet potatoes on your menu, you’ll be helping to get nutrition on the development agenda and more importantly giving 25 million children a brighter future.