Iron fist potatoes, integrating nutrition and agriculture in social protection programs

Iron fist potatoes, integrating nutrition and agriculture in social protection programs
A Zero Anemia project in Peru is linking agriculture with nutrition in coordination with a variety of public social protection programs. The mothers of young children visiting health clinics for checkups receive vouchers for seed of potatoes that are high in iron. The women and their families learn about growing these potatoes, so children and pregnant women eat more of them. Nutritionists share recipes that are adapted to local food preferences while explaining that eating iron-rich potatoes contributes to reducing anemia.
Fighting anemia with seed and knowledge. An extension agent shares iron-rich seed potatoes, and a flyer about growing and eating them. C. Villanueva (Asociación Pataz, La Libertad)

In the first year, one hundred and forty-two households redeemed their vouchers for 10 kg of biofortified seed potatoes. The project included a communication campaign targeted at both men and women, so that everyone would understand the nutritional benefits of these potatoes, and how to grow them.

The bags of seed included three new CIP clones, biofortified through conventional breeding, and two commercial landraces, Bretaña and Huevo de Indio, all high in iron. The seed potatoes were delivered by the “Papas Puño de Hierro” (Iron Fist Potatoes) campaign by government extension agents in collaboration with municipal governments, in coordination with local actors.

The mothers received the seed before the planting season (November and December 2020), along with a flyer and a calendar describing how to grow and prepare these iron-rich potatoes. 

Extensionists monitored the crop and gave farmers technical assistance. During the harvest of May–June 2021 the clones will be further evaluated for yield and their acceptance by the families. A cooperative of seed potato growers will multiply the varieties for coming seasons, which is essential for further scaling.

“Many farmers who grow potatoes suffer from anemia, especially women and children, because they need more iron in their diets,” explains Ronal Otiniano from Asociación Pataz, adding “Native potatoes are high in iron, but Zero Anemia is part of an effort to breed potatoes that are biofortified to have even higher levels of iron, to improve the nutritional impact.” 

Scaling the potatoes involves some innovative nutrition messaging. The project has written dietary guidelines with healthy recipes for young children. The project also produced a song and video about the iron fist potatoes, with local singer Kenty José. The song aired on radio stations in the districts of Curgos and Julcán.

Since almost all food starts on farms, it’s natural that agriculture and nutrition go together, although this often is not the case in practice. Zero Anemia is helping to make it happen and the plan is to link with social programs for broader scaling.