Planting Hope, Harvesting Health: Combating Vitamin A Deficiency in East Africa with Nutrient-Rich Bananas

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Short, thick, with a reddish skin and an orange interior, the bananas Dr Beatrice Ekesa fondly remembers eating as a child have been a rarity for decades, superseded by the fruit’s more recognisable curved green or yellow form. But that’s starting to change. Today, diverse bananas of bygone times are making a comeback to Eastern Africa — not for reasons of nostalgia, but nutrition.

Alongside a team of Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT colleagues, Dr Ekesa is taking on a devastating vitamin A deficiency crisis that has raged for years, using as her weapon the region’s popular staple food.

“Bananas are eaten daily in different forms by almost everyone in Eastern Africa, but local varieties are not very high in vitamin A. However, we’ve found that other types native to different parts of the world are vitamin A rich — our job is to work with our local communities and introduce these nutritious varieties to the food systems here.”

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