By Roger Thurow
A mother knows.
“This child is brilliant,” Harriet Okaka says about her one-year-old son, Abraham. She isn’t bragging, just observing. “I can tell, just by looking at him,” she says, “the way he plays, the way he is.”
Harriet, 33, is a smallholder farmer in the northern Uganda village of Okii, near the town of Lira. Abraham is her sixth child.
“The other children started walking by the time they were two years old. Abraham is walking at one,” she says. The mother has noticed things. When Abraham sees an animal, he motions for it to come, she notes. When he hears music, he claps and dances. “These are indications that his brain is developing well,” she says.
On a hot afternoon, Harriet and Abraham are sitting under a mango tree, savoring the shade with a dozen other women and their young children. A mango falls from a branch and bounces in the middle of them. Abraham is the first to react, quickly crawling a couple of feet to grab the fruit. Abraham takes a bite. All the adults laugh. Harriet beams.
“You see,” she says.
It is no mere coincidence, Harriet believes, that Abraham was born on the day in April 2012 when she and other women farmers had completed their first training session in the art of planting orange-flesh sweet potatoes and a new variety of beans. They are crops rich in micronutrients essential for the health of women and their children: Vitamin A in the sweet potatoes and iron in the beans. The crops – particularly beneficial during the 1,000 Days period between when a woman becomes pregnant and the second birthday of the child -- were developed by an organization called HarvestPlus, pioneers in biofortifying staple foods with higher levels of micronutrients, and deployed by the humanitarian agency, World Vision.