By DR. RICHARD BESSER, ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor
(NEW YORK) -- In a little village in Burkina Faso, under the scorching heat of the dry African season, I met a woman who has been empowered by a sweet potato.
Fatiba is 30 and she has three young children. She manages the family, grows the crops, cooks the meals, and sells produce in the market. She has been learning new farming techniques at the model garden center supported by Helen Keller International.
She lectured me about the importance of eating fresh produce, the impact of drip irrigation and mulch for extending the scarce water, and the nutritional value of the orange sweet potato.
"The orange sweet potato has Vitamin A," she said. "Our white sweet potato does not. I want my family to eat the orange one to make them healthier."
Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of preventable blindness and death in children around the world. Fatiba is taking steps to make sure her children and community are spared this problem.
She rides her bicycle 10 miles from the garden center back to her family compound to show us her own garden. Her face beams as she shows me the crops: cow peas, sweet peppers, and eggplant. She has grown carrots this year for the first time.
"They are a very good source of vitamin A," she tells me with the pride of someone who has newfound knowledge.
The garden means independence for her. Not only can her family have fresh vegetables every day for the first time ever, but the excess produce brings in money that is liberating.
She is quick to give her husband credit, too. Without the strong thatched fence that he built, the goats, donkeys, cattle and other animals would have destroyed the garden.
She fries up some sweet potato so I can give it a try and we sit on a mat with her children for an afternoon snack. They are a bit suspicious of me, but absolutely love the potatoes.
What's not to love? Sweet potato fries -- trendy in America -- are saving eyesight in Africa and are doing much more than that. The agricultural lessons that come with the potatoes are empowering women and improving their lives and the lives of their families.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
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