pon seeing stats from the World Health Organization concerning the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency syndrome in sub-Saharan Africa, Maame Ekua Manful was horrified. Determined to find a viable, food-based solution to the problem, she partnered with other students at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.
Their research led them underground, to the humble sweet potato. An inexpensive source of vitamin A, the orange-fleshed vegetable had not yet been fully exploited in Ghana. Capitalizing on the potato’s nutritional potential, Manful and her colleagues launched Sweetpot Yoghurt, a budding start-up that produces yogurt bio-fortified with sweet potatoes. The scientists-turned-entrepreneurs now sell yogurt that—unlike most on the market—is naturally flavored, free of preservatives and contains a healthy dose of vitamin A.
It brings [me] much joy and fulfillment to know it’s possible to make tangible research findings to improve society in a sustainable way, create jobs and improve livelihood.
What’s more, Sweetpot is positively affecting the sweet potato’s overall value chain, creating jobs and generating income for farmers, suppliers, distributors, drivers and retailers. “It brings [me] much joy and fulfillment to know it’s possible to make tangible research findings to improve society in a sustainable way, create jobs and improve livelihood,” said Manful.
Even as early as 2015, Manful was already thinking about sweet potatoes. That year, the late Kofi Annan paid a visit to the International Potato Centre in Kumasi, where she was interning. There, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations spoke about the vegetable’s potential for alleviating vitamin A deficiency syndrome in Africa.
Annan’s words resonated, and he became a strong source of inspiration for the food scientist. As Manful stated, “His passion for peace building, women empowerment and child education has made great impact in the world, especially in developing countries. Through his service to humanity, he has raised and inspired leaders and mentors for the next generation.”
We can’t help but think that Annan himself would be proud of the work Manful is doing to elevate the potato he long championed.
About the Africa Storytelling Challenge
The inaugural Champions of Science®—Africa Storytelling Challenge took place between May and August 2018. Open to all scientists doing innovative work in Africa, the contest drew more than 100 submissions. An independent selection committee of scientists, policymakers and science journalists reviewed the applications and selected the winners. Each winner will be awarded $5,000 and will have the opportunity to share their stories at the 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.