Stakeholders Chart Release of Vitamin A Cassava in Nigeria

By Godwin Atser

Ibadan, October 13, 2010: Ahead of the World Food Day which comes up on 16 October 2010, agriculture and health experts are holding talks in Ibadan to discuss the progress made in breeding new varieties of cassava that can provide Vitamin A through the diet.

The nutritionally-improved cassava will give more Nigerians access to Vitamin A and help fight 'hidden hunger.'

Pre-varietal release trials of the varieties across the country have proven that farmers find them irresistible.

“Farmers love the varieties and the varieties have good culinary qualities. When you make lafun – cassava porridge—with it, it is very smooth,” says Chief Tola Adepomola, Vice President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, who is participating in the pre-release trials.

“To us, the varieties save the cost of producing gari—a processed form of cassava. We do not need to buy palm oil to process yellow gari. We hope that these varieties will help solve the problem of Vitamin A deficiency and make farmers have more access to nutritious food,” he adds.

Since cassava is eaten daily in most of Nigeria, these new varieties that have been bred to provide Vitamin A, could improve the nutrition for millions of Nigerians, says Harrie Hendrickx, HarvestPlus' Head of Product Delivery.

Currently, about thirty percent of children under 5 are at risk of Vitamin A deficiency and are at greater risk of childhood infections such as diarrhea diseases, measles, and eye damage (including blindness).

Researchers are of the opinion that biofortification of key staples is an option to stem the trend especially among resource-poor farmers and children.

“We have seen fortication of Vitamin A in commodities such as sugar and flour but we feel the biofortification of staples such as cassava that is widely consumed will give the vulnerable groups more access to nutritious diet,” says Paul Ilona, HarvestPlus' Country Crop Manager.

Working with partners across the world, HarvestPlus, an international research organization, is leading the effort to improve the Vitamin A content of cassava using conventional plant breeding techniques. Partners including the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria (IITA), the Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the private sector are part of the strategy to help ensure successful delivery, and adoption of Vitamin A cassava in Nigeria. “We are making good progress in reaching the target levels we have set for Vitamin A in cassava, “Ilona adds.

“Varieties with intermediate levels of Vitamin A will hopefully be released in 2011 with varieties with even more Vitamin A in the breeding pipeline. This meeting will help make sure we are on track for that. The long-term goals are to ensure that millions of people have access to, and are using, Vitamin A cassava varieties by 2018.”

Dr Peter Kulakow, IITA Cassava Breeder, says the multiplication of the nutritionally-improved varieties is ongoing.

“The plan is to ensure that farmers have access to the varieties once officially released,” he says.

The Oyo State Government backed the initiative to make the nutritionally-improved varieties available to its farmers, saying that it would improve the nutritional status, food security and standard of living of its people.

“The government of Oyo State appreciates your ingenuity and… We identify with this programme. The promotion of cassava with higher levels of pro-Vitamin A can help to reduce Vitamin A deficiency among undernourished communities that rely on cassava for sustenance,” says Kunle Ishola, Oyo State Commissioner for Agriculture in Nigeria.