All Praise the Lowly Sweet Potato
High-tech version could save countless lives in Africa: Nicholas Kristof
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2010 11:55 AM CST
In this Friday, Nov. 19, 2010 photo made at Vick Family Farms in Wilson, N.C., workers sort through sweet potatoes.   (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

(Newser) – As you take a seat at the table tonight and give thanks for the bounty, give a special nod to the pecan- and sugar-encrusted sweet potatoes sitting before you. In a "happy column about hunger," Nicholas Kristof declares the Thanksgiving staple a true hero. Writing for the New York Times, he explains that a shortage of micronutrients, not calories, is one of the leading causes of death from malnutrition. Hundreds of thousands of African children die from a lack of vitamin A, and the cost of distributing a vitamin A capsule can be as high as $1 each.

So scientists set out to create a new version of the sweet potato—the ones that currently grow well in Africa lack vitamin A—that could flourish there. And they did. Some 170,000 Ugandan and Mozambiquan families are already growing them, the first of a number of such engineered crops. "There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical," notes Kristof. Will Africans take to bright-orange bananas (currently in the works)? Will Europe battle against this mix of agriculture and nutrition, dubbed "biofortification"? Perhaps. But "if there’s any justice in the world, statues may eventually be erected of this noble root, the Mother Teresa of the dinner plate."