October 24, 2016 (Lima, Peru) — The International Potato Center (CIP) was awarded the 2016 Al-Sumait Food Security Prize along with CGIAR sister Center IITA, for their contributions toward reducing poverty and improving food and nutrition security. The announcement came last week at a Kuwait City gathering of the Al-Sumait’s Board of Trustees.
“Our partners and donors share this recognition with us since it is through their consistent support and focus on delivering at scale that we have been able to have a significant impact on eliminating childhood blindness, reducing hidden hunger and contributing to the reduction in chronic malnourishment and stunting in Africa,” said CIP Director General Dr. Barbara Wells.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is one of the most pernicious forms of undernourishment in the developing world. It causes blindness, limits growth, weakens immunity, and increases mortality. Afflicting over 140 million preschool children in 118 countries and more than seven million pregnant women, it is the leading cause of child blindness in developing countries. Between 250,000 and 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children go blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. VAD also weakens the immune system in children under five.
The Al-Sumait citation for the International Potato Center noted “The Sweetpotato for Nutrition Team at the International Potato Center mobilized funds from interested donors to bring the nutritional benefits of Vitamin A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) to an estimated nearly 2 million households in countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. The team fast tracked breeding of OFSP varieties in Africa, resulting in release of over 50 nutritious varieties along with increased technical capacity of national research staff in several countries and developing varieties with increased productivity and resistance to sweetpotato virus disease.”
CIP, which adopted sweetpotato as a mandate crop in 1988, began working on introducing pro-vitamin A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato in 1995 as most dominant varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa are white-fleshed, having no beta-carotene. Research has also shown that Vitamin A sweetpotato can reduce the prevalence and duration of diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of preventable death in children under five.
Dr. Adnan Shihab-Eldin, Director General of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), which administers the awards, said: “Both of the two teams that were awarded the 2016 Al-Sumait Food Security Prize represent innovative, exciting initiatives being done to address the challenges facing Africa.”
Critical to the success of orange-fleshed sweetpotato in Sub-Saharan Africa was the participation of health care providers who promoted the nutritional value of the crop to pregnant and lactating women. Another major lesson learned early in the introduction of orange-fleshed sweetpotato was that it was necessary to breed in Africa for Africa so that the pro-vitamin A trait, beta-carotene, is prevalent in sweetpotatoes with taste and agronomic characteristics that consumers and producers wanted. This required convincing donors and governments to invest in a crop that was largely ignored, considered a crop of the poor and, in most countries, a woman’s crop.
CIP’s Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato team through the generous support of donors and partners dedicated more than 15 years to breeding the Vitamin A-enriched OFSP using genetic material from CIP and dominant local varieties, while simultaneously structuring the nutrition studies and programs that, together with a multidisciplinary team of breeders, agronomists, seed specialists and social scientists from CIP and partners, has resulted to date in nearly 2.8 million households in 10 separate African countries planting and consuming this nutritionally fortified food.
In addition to its nutritional value sweetpotato is a climate smart crop that is important to areas of Sub-Saharan Africa experiencing extreme climate events. CIP backstops 12 national programs in Africa in their sweetpotato breeding efforts from their support platforms in Uganda, Mozambique and Ghana and strives to build a strong community of practice to address bottlenecks in seed systems and value chain development.
The acceptance of orange-fleshed sweetpotato by African consumers required education at the community level and in the fields where farmers learned best farming practice to ensure that disease free, tolerant, and nutritious varieties of sweetpotato were available.
Al-Sumait’s Board is chaired by H.E. Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Other board members include Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, Former President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Kwaku Aning, Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mr. Abdulatif Alhamad, Director General and Chairman of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Mr Tareq Al-Mutawa, Executive Member of the Board of Public Gathering Charity Committee and others.
The International Potato Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIP, was founded in 1971 as a root and tuber research-for-development institution delivering sustainable solutions to the pressing world problems of nutrition, hunger, poverty, and the degradation of natural resources in the face of climate change. CIP is a global center, with headquarters in Lima, Peru and offices in 23 developing countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Working closely with our partners, CIP seeks to achieve food security, increased well-being, and gender equity for poor people in the developing world. CIP furthers its mission through rigorous research, innovation in science and technology, and capacity strengthening regarding root and tuber farming and food systems. A full list of donors and partners that supported CIP’s work on orange-fleshed sweet potato can be found at https://www.cipotato.org/wfp.
CIP is part of the CGIAR, a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food secure future. CGIAR research is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources. Donors include individual countries, major foundations, and international entities.
CIP is the lead center for the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), and CIP’s work related to orange sweetpotato is part of the deliverables of this program and a contribution to the achievement of the CGIAR goals in terms of poverty reduction, enhanced nutrition and food security and natural resources management that contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For more on CIP’s Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato Program visit https://cipotato.org/resilient-nutritious-sweetpotato/