The world may have found a new ally in the fight against anemia: the humble potato. As highlighted by Hugo Campos – roots, tubers and banana breeding lead at CGIAR – anemia is “the most rampant yet preventable childhood diseases around the world, affecting two out of every five preschoolers”, and has been a persistent challenge, especially in low-income countries.
Hugo Campos, a columnist for The Des Moines Register, write in a recent article published by the Register that more than 6% of children in the US were anemic as of 2019, yet the condition is exponentially more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries. In India, around one in every two children under the age of five has anemia.
Campos points out that the International Potato Center’s (CIP) groundbreaking work in biofortifying crops has already shown promise with the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Now, researchers have set their sights on using biofortification to tackle the wicked problem of anemia with iron-enriched potatoes.
Bred using traditional plant breeding approaches, a high-iron potato offers hope of reaching a large number of children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, the demographic groups most vulnerable to anemia.
In a related article, HarvestPlus reports that deficiency particularly plagues women and children, especially in Latin America, where over 57 million are affected. However, a beacon of hope emerges from the highlands of Peru, where potatoes are a dietary mainstay.
Researchers from the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima have unveiled iron biofortified potatoes that can meet over half of a woman’s daily iron needs. Their study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, reveals that iron absorption from these biofortified potatoes was a staggering 45.8% higher than regular potatoes. In Peru’s rural regions, where anemia runs rampant, these fortified potatoes could be a game-changer.
While further research is needed to gauge their global impact, this initial study heralds a promising strategy against iron deficiency in specific communities. The complete study can be accessed in The Journal of Nutrition.