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By Kelly Merchan
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

Jan Low, M.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’94, an agricultural economist whose work integrating agriculture and nutrition has improved the health of millions worldwide, has joined Cornell’s Department of Global Development as an adjunct professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Low, principal scientist with the International Potato Center (CIP) based in Nairobi, Kenya, has dedicated her career to developing and promoting biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato to combat vitamin A deficiency. In 2016 she earned the World Food Prize for her work designing and implementing integrated agriculture-nutrition-marketing approaches that raise incomes while improving diets and nutritional status

“Engaging with the world’s biggest challenges can only be done through a multidisciplinary approach that fuses science with direct action,” Low said. “I am thrilled to join Global Development and my Cornell colleagues to tackle food system transformation, climate change and the myriad of challenges facing the world.”

Working with plant breeders and community stakeholders in sub-Saharan Africa, Low is dedicated to the urgent need to transform global and local food systems to be healthier, more affordable, and less damaging to the environment.

Low anticipates forging collaborations with scientists at Cornell and in areas of mutual interest. She plans to develop more opportunities for Cornell graduate and undergraduate students to be linked to intern and research opportunities with CGIAR centers.

I am thrilled to join Global Development and my Cornell colleagues to tackle food system transformation, climate change and the myriad of challenges facing the world.
Jan W. Low

During the past decade, Low managed the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) research project and co-led the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI). The SPHI was a multi-partner, multi-donor initiative that reached 6.8 million African households in 15 target countries by 2020 with improved varieties of sweetpotato, promoting their diversified use. 

In 2003-04, Low conducted the first study that demonstrated the health benefits for young children  consuming the orange-fleshed sweetpotato root, which is rich in beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential to human health, especially in childhood development, and deficits can lead to blindness and suppress the immune system. Her study showed a 15 percent decline in vitamin A deficiency in children who consumed orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) regularly compared with children who did not.

The introduction of OFSP varieties by Low and two breeders with CIP has played a key role in tackling vitamin A deficiency in regions throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  Programs led by CIP and its partners have convinced nearly 7 million households in 15 African countries to plant, purchase and consume biofortified sweetpotatoes.


Kelly Merchan is a communications specialist in the Department of Global Development.

Faculty spotlight

Jan Low

Research focus: Integrated agriculture-nutrition-marketing approaches that target nutritional status and local economies

Jan Low headshot

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