Dr. Jan Low Fights Global Malnutrition With Sweet Potatoes

While undertaking her doctoral research, in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Jan Low, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’94 realized a switch in sweet potato varieties could make major differences in the health of those living in sub-Saharan Africa. This realization, and her subsequent work for the International Potato Center on the orange-fleshed sweet potato led her to recently be named a 2016 World Food Prize co-laureate. Dr. Low — who will share her $250,000 prize with two colleagues at the CIP and Howarth Bouis at HarvestPlus — credits her time as both a masters and a doctoral student in Cornell’s Agricultural Economics program as an important stepping stone to her work in global agricultural and nutrition. More specifically, she points to her ability to minor in nutrition — while pursuing her Ph.D. in agricultural economics — for giving her the ability to work “multi-sectorally,” which, for her, entails “focusing on integrating nutritional concerns into agricultural project and program design.” It was the work of her department’s chairperson, however, that started her thinking about the projects she would eventually set out to tackle. Dr. Daniel Sisler — Low’s chairperson throughout her doctoral studies — was interested in vitamin A thanks to his work with Helen Keller International, a New York-based non-governmental organization that works to combat the causes and repercussions of blindness.