Ghana Pop Music Celebrates Delicious and Healthy Sweet Potato in Northern Region
Nutrition and health just became pop-star cool in Ghana’s north. With the planting of the planting of 1.5 million orange-fleshed sweet potato seedlings, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and three of the Northern Region’s most popular and well-known musical artists are celebrating with song. Known locally as “Alaafei Wuljo”, the orange-fleshed sweet potato is a tasty, easy-to-grow yet highly nutritious crop. USAID is scaling-up this crop in the Northern Region of Ghana to improve the nutritional status of women and children. Based on their enthusiasm for this variety and its role in improving health and nutrition in the North, three local celebrities, Maigah Mustapha (who performs as “TM”), Mariwan Alhassan (“D-Almar”) and Salma Adam (“Princess Chizzy”), composed a song entitled “Yimiana kati kou,” a Dagbani phrase meaning “Come out, Let’s Farm.”
The new crop is expected to improve the health of thousands of women and children in the Northern Region by encouraging diverse crop production and the consumption of nutrient-rich foods. Through Feed the Future, President Obama’s global hunger and food security initiative, USAID is collaborating with the three artists to officially launch the “Alaafei Wuljo” promotional song and broadcast it on local radio stations
Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (scientific name: Ipomoea Batatas) are tasty and easy to grow in Ghana’s environment, even in the north. They are also a good source of vitamin A, which helps to reduce anemia, a pervasive problem throughout Ghana. Nearly half of all women in the Northern region are anemic, and the region has the highest percentage of women with severe anemia in Ghana, according to the 2014 Demographic & Health Survey. Only 55% of mothers in Ghana get vitamin A supplement within two months after childbirth, as prescribed. Additionally, in the Northern Region only 44% of children under five years of age have received a vitamin A supplement in the past 6 months (compared to 65% nationally). Night blindness is another result of vitamin A deficiency and according to the World Health Organization, and 7.5% of Ghanaian women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years) are afflicted with night blindness.
During a 2015 pilot implemented in partnership with the University for Development Studies (UDS), nearly 100,000 “Alaafei Wuljo” orange-flesh sweet potato vines were distributed to 350 women for cultivation and more than 20,000 kilograms of sweet potatoes were harvested from 6 acres of land. RING and UDS trained the women on orange-fleshed sweet potato cultivation, harvesting and utilization for household consumption with the aim of improving complementary feeding for children 6-23 months of age. Training was conducted immediately after harvesting the roots and centered on the preparation of various local dishes including “Alaafei Wuljo” leaf stew, porridge, “mpotompoto” or potage, and fried chips. This resulted in strong demand for the crop in both piloted and neighboring communities. “Alaafei Wuljo” recipes were especially popular when introducing solid foods to children over 6 months of age.
The results of the pilot demonstrated that “Alaafei Wuljo” can grow well on degraded soils and under average weather conditions. People in the communities have shown a high level of receptiveness and support for the “Alaafei Wuljo” intervention.
Based on the high level of success achieved during the pilot phase, USAID is scaling up the cultivation and utilization of “Alaafei Wuljo” to reach more than 3,000 vulnerable households of the Northern Region with over 1.5 million “Alaafei Wuljo” vines cultivated and planted in 2016. As part of the scale-up strategy, USAID is collaborating with UDS and the Peace Corps to promote the cultivation and consumption of “Alaafei Wuljo” in 17 districts in the Northern Region.
Promoting the cultivation, utilization and consumption of “Alaafei Wuljo” is an important, timely, and sustainable intervention to help reduce vitamin A deficiency and anemia in the Northern Region. Organizers now invite communities and households to join the “Alaafei Wuljo” movement and improve the nutrition of all Northern Ghanaians.
Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade to increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. The U.S. Government partners with the government of Ghana to achieve these goals, build leadership, improve governance, and build capacity in the agricultural, economic growth and health sectors. For more information, visit www.feedthefuture.gov.