Nigeria And International Partners Flag Off Dissemination Of ProVitamin 'A' Cassava Varieties
Uyo, NigeriaThe Nigerian government and HarvestPlus have flagged off the dissemination provitamin A cassava planting materials to farmers, inspired by agricultural reforms aimed at cutting down the number of persons afflicted with vitamin A deficiency and improving food security.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akin Adesina with the Governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio jointly kicked off the dissemination of the cassava planting materials in the capital city of Uyo on Tuesday.
Researchers say using provitamin A cassava to tackle vitamin A deficiency is an excellent option because of the easy availability and accessibility of cassava in most rural communities.
A nutrition survey report by the Nigerian government shows that vitamin A deficiency hurts the health of about 20% of pregnant women and 30% of children below the age of 5, according to Dr Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director in a speech read on his behalf today.
People afflicted by vitamin A deficiency suffer either from night blindness, stunting, low immunity or even death.
'The World Health Organization estimates that about 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight,' said Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships and Capacity Development with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Efforts by the Nigerian government to solve this malady include fortification of products such as wheat, soft drinks, flour, and sugar with vitamin A. The biofortification of cassava aims to amplify these efforts, taking vitamin A to people who may not be able to afford the cost of fortified foods.
Commonly referred to as yellow cassava, the provitamin A cassava varieties are products of decades of conventional breeding efforts by researchers at IITA in partnership with the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, with funds from HarvestPlus.
Dr Dashiell said, 'The development of provitamin A is a big milestone and working with our partners, NRCRI and HarvestPlus, we hope to develop more nutritious crops that will enhance food security.'
HarvestPlus and partners plan to ensure that over two million farmers have access to vitamin A cassava stems for planting across the major cassava producing states in Nigeria with initial emphasis on Abia, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Imo and Oyo States as regional hubs.
Paul Ilona, HarvestPlus Country Manager said the strategy is to distribute 300,000 bundles of stems to 100,000 households in Nigeria in 2013 alone, and support the emergence of a sustainable seed system to make stems available to all farmers in the years ahead.
Currently, more than 40,000 traceable farmers in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra, Benue, Edo, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Rivers states received stems in June and July, while more states will receive stems before the end of August.
'This is possible because over 500 hectares of the vitamin A varieties were proactively multiplied in 2012,' he added.
Stakeholders believe that rural households deserve better nutrition and the consumption of more nutritious crops is a good opportunity to reduce malnutrition globally.
The Executive Director, NRCRI, Dr JC Okonkwo called on farmers to cultivate the varieties and consume them sufficiently especially for children under 5, and pregnant women for better health and nutrition. He also encouraged farmers to give stems to their neighbors at the time of harvest to ensure rapid dissemination of planting materials.
Besides improving the health and nutrition of the people, the cultivation of the varieties can provide jobs, improve incomes, and lift poor households out of poverty.
Consumers love the varieties because of their nutritional qualities and they can be processed into several dishes.