An international organisation, Harvest Plus, is promoting crop bio-fortification, which experts say is a cost-effective method for overcoming deficiencies in crops, writes DANIEL ESSIET.
Micronutrient malnutrition, also called hidden hunger, is dangerous to health.
To eradicate it, an international global organisation has taken up the challenge.
Spearheading the firms is HarvestPlus, a programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It is seeking to reduce micronutrient malnutrition through bio-fortification; by breeding new varieties of staple food crops that contain or provide more vitamins and minerals.
It is biofortifying crops, such as beans, millet, cassava, maize, sweet potato, rice, and wheat with vitamin A, iron or zinc. The crops are not only high yielding but also drought tolerant and pest resistant.
One of the benefitting farmers is Atinuke Lebile, co-founder of Cato Foods &Agroallied Global Concepts in Ibadan, Oyo State. A HarvestPlus’ partner, her firm cultivates vitamin A cassava crops as well as rice and vegetables.
Three years after she started her agribusiness in 2014, she is making money from bio-fortified cassava and other crops she planted on her farm.
Lebile is at the vanguard of young farmers planting bio-fortified vitamin A yellow cassava. She has seen many malnourished people suffering from vitamin A deficiency. To this end, she is working with Harvest Plus to distribute cassava root varieties that are rich in vitamin A.
Besides, she is part of an initiative, She Agric, which encourages African women between ages 18 and 35 to work in the agric sector.
They are promoting bio-fortified crops.
Bio-fortification, they said, boosts crops’ nutritional value, which is cheaper than adding micronutrients to processed foods.
HarvestPlus International Chief Executive Officer Beverley Postma said the organisation tackles hidden hunger, that affects two billion people worldwide.
Using advanced, research-backed bio-fortification techniques, HarvestPlus crosses high-yield varieties of maize, sweet potatoes, and other staples with older varieties high in those key nutrients.
The results are dramatic: reductions in killer conditions such as night blindness (caused by a vitamin A deficiency) are observable within a month of dietary changes.
But the work is painstaking: It can take six years to develop and grow to maturity a new, high-nutrition crop.
Postma explained: “HarvestPlus in Nigeria is based on three crops – the likes of cassava, maize, and potato which all have naturally enhanced level of vitamin A.”
Postma said Vitamin A is one of the vital building blocks that heal secular blindness, strengthens the immune system which makes children and adults less vulnerable to some killer diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea.
She added that Harvest Plus is not stopping on the three crops but planning to develop and release other staple crops so that vital minerals and vitamins, such as Zinc and Iron, can be brought into people’s diet.
Explaining how the orginsation is planning to reach one billion people by 2030, Postma said: “To scale up to reach these people in 2030, 200 million has been estimated for the project and there is also the need to input more effort in the next five years into completing the research discovery works of these crops.” She added that some funds need to go into the research in IITA on crops like cassava and sweet potato.
“All these crops require an amazing amount of research and investment to ensure that they are not only nutritious but also yield the maximum result of reducing diseases because a farmer will not buy crops only because it is nutritious but because it is also performing. The above 200million estimated is about global figure that will be needed across three continents. Continents such as Africa, where five-18 countries will be scaled up,” she added.
Also in Asia, three to seven countries will be scaled up before the organisation will move to Latin America to do a similar thing.
‘’Scaling up, which will take place in these continents, is a big investment because these are the areas where we see population suffer from a high risk of malnutrition.”
She appreciated the government for its support to biofortified crops and looked forward to continued patnership.
HarvestPlus Country Manager, Dr Paul Ilona, said: “The food we eat becomes our future. Statistics have shown that every hour we lose 100 children and six women of child bearing age in Nigeria. These figures are alarming as giant of Africa as the issue of malnutrition is a great challenge in the nation.”
Ilona lauded the government for its effort at adding value to life through improvement in food culture, by mandating food companies to fortify their food.
”HarvestPlus is trying to address the need of majority Nigerians, although majority of these Nigerians are low-income earner; about 60 percent of Nigerians earn less than a dollar a day. To what extent can they purchase the nutritious food?” he queried.
HarvestPlus Chief Scientific Officer Wolfgang Pfeiffer said: “There is an increase in deficiency from Southnorth.”He expressed the hope that there would be more biofortified products next year.”
Source:: The Nation