Tanzania can reduce vitamin A deficiencies by promoting

06Nov 2017
The Guardian
Tanzania can reduce vitamin A deficiencies by promoting
  • production and consumption of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes

MALNUTRITION is one of the most serious health problems affecting infants, children, and women of reproductive age in Tanzania. Despite progress made, millions of children and women in Tanzania continue to suffer from one or more forms of under-nutrition,

including low birth weight, stunting, being underweight, wasting, vitamin A deficiency (VAD), iodine deficiency disorders, and anemia. Addressing malnutrition problems results in significant economic and social benefits as it reduces morbidity and mortality leading to resource savings in healthcare, improved education outcomes, enhanced productivity and increased incomes. 

Tanzania  has a comparative advantage in the production of sweet potatoes in the world and in the East Africa Community region. Moreover, orange flesh sweet potatoes (OFSP) are already in higher production in lake zone, coastal, central and southern part of Tanzania, hence a higher probability for OFSP adoption. However the situation has established a number of challenges that need to be worked as they may constrain the adoption process, these may include the cultural belief that sweet potatoes is for women and children only and men are not involved in production. As men control most resources including land required for production, there is a need to sensitize them and bring them onboard through the advocacy strategy. Moreover, most people still prefer the traditional white sweet potatoes to orange flesh sweet potatoes that have more vitamin A, hence more promotional measure is needed for behaviour and attitude change. Other challenges that will need urgent efforts include the presence of virus attacking sweet potatoes and shortages of vines that is required for the production of orange fleshed sweet potatoes.



In the same vein, recently, Tanzania hosted the 8th annual sweet potato for profit and health initiative technical and steering committee meeting. It was preceded by an exhibition both held in Dar es Salaam. The two events brought together over 100 participants representing 16 sub-Saharan African countries and scientists from Germany, Peru, the USA and the UK.

The theme of the meeting was Building Resilient Food Systems with Sweet potato. According to Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS 2010), one-third (33 per cent) of children in the country under five years of age and 42 per cent of women of reproductive age are vitamin A deficiency (TDHS, 2010).

According to researchers and scientists, in this context, nutrition-sensitive agricultural development can play a crucial role in rural communities for which farming is the main source of food and income.

Food-based approaches are highly complementary to other interventions to tackle vitamin A deficiency especially in rural communities where it is difficult to reach beneficiaries consistently with alternative interventions.

Senior country coordinator for building nutritious food baskets (BNFB), Dr. Richard Kasuga said that  generally sweet potato is ranked highly as a food security crop in Tanzania and is known as the crop that makes it when grain crops like maize and rice fail.

Tanzania currently has ten orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) varieties that have either been released or are in the pipeline for release.

“Provision of sufficient quantities of high quality plating materials of these improved beta-carotene rich varieties, especially during critical periods of planting can improve production,” he said.

Director of research and development (DRD) in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Dr. Hussein Mansoor explained that  most countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are seeing rapid urbanization, which changes the food mix and food demand outlook, and unexpected shocks like drought that are becoming at times expected shocks. 

Resilience is the ability to manage change, both expected and unexpected, understanding the biophysical, economic and social processes that are affected and reacting to changing situations. 

Sweet potato’s ability to fit into a range of different agro-ecologies and its ability to use water efficiently makes it a key ally in building resilient food systems.

“Tanzania is an agricultural country.  Agriculture accounts for almost 29 per cent of GDP and employs two-thirds of our workforce.  While maize, rice and cassava are the most important food crops, sweet potato is rising in its importance, with 3.5 million tons produced in 2014,” He said.

According data Tanzania is the second producer of sweet potato in sub-Saharan Africa  (SSA). According to FAO, Tanzania is now the second largest sweet potato producing country in SSA after Nigeria.  Sweet potato is a critical crop for food security. 

Increasingly, Tanzanians have been recognizing how important it is for building a nutritious, resilient food supply. Currently, there are several Tanzanian processing companies.

The companies are creating new products with a crop that all categories of farmer’s can grow is an excellent way to reach growing urban populations and generate income for them.


 At the national summit on food fortification held two months ago in Dar es Salaam, in her opening remarks the Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, noted that no country in the world can achieve sustainable development without having in place a vibrant nutrition programme.

She emphasized that micronutrient malnutrition was a huge problem in Tanzania, despite the economic growth of 7 per cent.  She said  “The fight against deficiencies in micronutrients and malnutrition needs multi-sectoral efforts.” She also remarked that “It is a pity that even in areas of the country where there are always bumper harvests, the magnitude of stunting and anaemia are still very high. 


Dr. Mansoor explained further that this is so true:  A survey conducted in 2016, found the prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years of age at  42 per cent, which is an unacceptably high figure. Only 9 per cent of our children 6-23 months of age have a minimum acceptable diet.

The WHO and FAO of UN define fortification as "the practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient.  The goal is to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and to provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health”. 

When most consumers think of fortification they think of the food industry adding vitamins and or minerals to a processed food product.  But the Vice President noted the challenge of access to industrial fortified foods by the rural population, and called upon government officials and other actors to cooperate with fortification stakeholders to provide nutrition education to the population in a coordinated manner. She further emphasised the importance of making available varieties of crops of bio-fortified nutritious staples to rural communities to complement industrial fortification efforts.

Given the significant and complementary role of biofortification in addressing hidden hunger, the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Center considered it necessary to revise the terms of reference of the National Food Fortification Alliance, established in 2003 to oversee implementation of food fortification initiatives in Tanzania. With support from the CIP-led Building Nutritious Food Baskets project and other partners, the terms of reference of the National Food Fortification Alliance, were revised to include biofortification.  Since 2012, six other major national policy and strategy documents on agriculture development and nutrition have included biofortification.  These include, the National Agricultural Policy of 2013, Agriculture Sector Development Strategy II (ASDS-II) of 2014, and Agriculture Sector Development Programme II (ASDP-II) of 2016.

Others are the National Multisectoral Nutrition Action Plan (NMNAP) (July 2016-June 2021), The Tanzania Food and Nutrition Policy (2015) and, The 5-year strategy for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (2016-2020)

At the present time in Tanzania, there are orange-fleshed sweet potato with high-iron beans and orange maize in the pipeline.  OFSP are being promoted and produced in 48 out of 169 districts in Tanzania that is 28 per cent of the total.  They could be and should be expanded to almost all districts.

“With 44 per cent of Tanzania’s population under 15 years of age, as we think about sweet potato’s role in resilient food systems, we must think about the best strategies for engaging youth along the sweet potato value chain,” he said. 


According to Dr. Mansoor, with the potential for agro-processing  there is tremendous scope for involving even youth with limited land access in production as well as in trade and processing ventures.

Youth are often more willing to try new things and are conscious about their looks and health.  This means investing in sweet potato’s image and especially in the image of orange-fleshed sweet potato as a health food for all—young and old, rural and urban, and rich and poor consumers will have quick returns.

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