- By Godwin atser
Global leaders and experts need to integrate biofortification and other available options to fight the menace of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that is afflicting the poor, says the Director-General of HarvestPlus, Dr. Howarth Bouis.
Currently, the most common interventions being used in fighting vitamin and mineral deficiencies include dietary diversity, fortification of staples such as flour and sugar, and supplementation. While increasing dietary diversity is an ideal longer-term solution; that requires increases in income. Fortification and supplementation on the other hand are relatively expensive, with supplementation with vitamin and mineral capsules alone receiving an estimated $5 billion per year.
“Biofortification therefore provides a more cost-effective, cheaper, and easier access to these nutrients, and integrating it in current crop improvement efforts could have more impact,” says Bouis in a meeting with the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga.
Generally, in the developing countries, vitamin A deficiency, for instance, remains a major bottleneck to improved nutrition with approximately 250,000 to 500,000 malnourished children going blind each year, and half of whom die within a year of becoming blind.
InNigeria, vitamin A deficiency afflicts almost 20% of pregnant women and about 30% of children under five. Apart from lowering immunity, vitamin A deficiency results in economic losses in gross domestic product of about $1.5 billion, according to the Nigerian government estimates.
Bouis says, “Unless we are willing to change the way we play the game, we cannot win the battle against malnutrition.”
Last year, the Nigerian Varietal Release Committee released three provitamin A cassava varieties that are yellowish in color to help fight vitamin A deficiency.
The development of the varieties was led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture using conventional breeding methods with funding support from HarvestPlus. The National Root Crops Research Institute in Umudike was the Nigerian partner.
“The efforts in developing the varieties were fantastic and I congratulate IITA,” Bouis says.
In his remarks, Sanginga says IITA will continue to support efforts that will lead to better nutrition globally, stressing that the competence and presence of IITA across several parts ofAfricaprovide unique opportunities for research and dissemination of improved technologies.
Over 100 million people inNigeriadepend on cassava for their daily calorie, the majority of whom are poor and live on less than $2 per day.
HarvestPlus hopes that the new varieties will provide the vulnerable groups with more vitamin A in their daily diets.
Farmers who participated in the pre-varietal release trials across the country said they liked the yellow cassava varieties and already there is a big demand for them.
Multiplication of the varieties is ongoing in four states inNigeria, namely, Akwa Ibom, Oyo,Benueand Imo.
Paul Ilona, HarvestPlus Manager forNigeriasays, “It will take some time before we have enough quantities to give out.”
In 2013, when sufficient certified stems are available, HarvestPlus and its partners will then distribute these to about 50,000 farming households initially.
Farmers will be able to grow these new vitamin A varieties and feed them to their families. They can also multiply and share cuttings with others in their community, amplifying the nutritional benefits. After the mid-2014 harvest, more than 150,000 household members are expected to be eating vitamin A-enriched cassava.
IITA is an international non-profit R4D organization established in 1967, governed by a Board of Trustees, and supported primarily by the CGIAR. We work with partners in Africa and beyond to reduce producer and consumer risks, enhance crop quality and productivity, and generate wealth from agriculture. We develop agricultural solutions with our partners to tackle hunger and poverty. Our award winning research for development (R4D) is based on focused, authoritative thinking anchored on the development needs of tropical countries.