Press Release: New radio drama targets vitamin A deficiency

Press Release: New radio drama targets vitamin A deficiency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Farm Radio International is putting the power of radio drama to work in Uganda. This week marks the launch of My Children, a radio drama series that aims to convince farmers to replace traditional varieties of sweet potato with a more nutritious, orange-fleshed alternative.

 

Ottawa, Canada – June 17, 2013 – Nearly one in every three preschoolers in Uganda lacks vitamin A, and a quarter of their mothers do as well. This can result in impaired immunity and eye damage leading to blindness and even death. Around the world, up to 500,000 preschool children go blind from vitamin A deficiency (VAD) each year, and about two thirds of them die within months of losing their vision. And this can all be minimized with a small change in the food that mothers and their children eat.

 

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSPs) are packed with beta-carotene, an important source of vitamin A. One small, 150-gram serving of OFSP can meet a five-year-old child’s daily requirement of vitamin A. In Uganda, farmers already grow sweet potato — they just call it potato.

 

“Sweet potatoes are a staple crop for many farming families,” notes Kevin Perkins, Executive Director of Farm Radio International (FRI). “But traditional varieties are a dull yellow colour, not the bright orange, nutrient-rich kind that Canadians find in the grocery store.”

 

Fifteen years of conventional plant breeding that combined sweet potato varieties from Latin America and Africa has resulted in sweet potatoes that are high in nutrients and, from the perspective of children, much tastier. These new, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes can have huge nutritional benefits while generating revenue for small-scale farmers. Nevertheless, in rural Uganda, the new potato’s superpowers are relatively unknown.

 

Cue the radio drama. FRI, working with the HarvestPlus consortium in Uganda, has produced an ongoing story — like a mini Coronation Street on the radio — for Ugandan farming families. The thirty-episode series, My Children, combines health and agricultural education with an entertaining plot. Following each five-minute episode, participating radio stations provide follow-up information and use interactive SMS-based voting systems provided by TRAC FM to measure knowledge acquisition and impact.

 

“Radio is the best tool to reach rural communities across Africa,” Perkins says. “And the mobile phone revolution has only made radio better by allowing interaction between broadcaster and listeners.”

 

The drama is a story about love, domestic strife, money, power, and, of course, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Florence, the heroine of the series, struggles to grow enough nutritious food to feed her family, and knows that her children are not as healthy as they could be. She reluctantly decides to give OFSP a try. But first she has to stop her money-obsessed husband from selling the family farming plot to fund a foolish “business idea.”

 

FRI conducted research with farmers to inform messaging and plot development. The research produced anecdotal evidence suggesting that farmers who have already chosen to include OFSP in their fields and diets have seen improvements in the health of their families.

 

“There has been a great reduction in medical expenses in hospitals as children fall sick less frequently as a result of eating OFSP,” said a participant during the pre-project research.

 

The mini-series, the first of its kind for FRI, will be broadcast in six languages by ten radio stations in Uganda. FRI expects the project will contribute to increased knowledge of the nutrition, preparation, and consumption of OFSP in the up to 350,000 households in 13 districts that have access to My Children.

 

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About Farm Radio International

Farm Radio International is a Canadian charity working with more than 460 radio broadcasters in 38 African countries to fight poverty and food insecurity. We help African broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities by providing broadcaster resources such as information and resource packages, broadcaster training to help develop a higher standard of farm services, and impact programming to plan and deliver special radio campaigns and programs that address specific development challenges such as soil erosion and banana bacterial wilt.
For more information, please visit our website at www.farmradio.org.

 

Contact To learn more about this and other FRI projects, or to arrange interview with individuals involved in the project, please contact:

 

Kevin Perkins, Executive Director, Farm Radio International
1404 Scott Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 4M8
kperkins@farmradio.org
Tel: 1-613-203-4443, 1-613-761-3658, or 1-800-267-8699 x3658

 

Multimedia

  • In the first episode in the series, we meet the drama’s heroine, Florence, as she digs in her garden. Her husband, Roland, enters the scene, trying to close a “business opportunity” to sell part of the family plot. Florence worries about how she will provide enough food for her children as she already struggles to feed them through her small plot. The English version of this episode’s script, and a recording of it in Luganda, can be found here.
  • Project photos and related captions are available here.

 

Why radio?

  • –  Many small-scale farmers don’t have access to the internet, electricity, or computers.
  • –  Radio is accessible in rural communities, and reaches those who can’t read or write.
  • –  There are an estimated 800 million radios in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Why vitamin A?

  • –  Six percent of deaths among children under five are due to vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which diminishes the body’s ability to fight common infections such as diarrhea and measles.
  • –  Between 250,000 and 500,000 malnourished children in the developing world go blind each year due to VAD, making it the leading cause of preventable blindness.
  • –  Approximately 43 million children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from VAD.

 

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