…Saves Nigeria $1.5bn from vitamin deficiencies
Stories by Steve Agbota [email protected] 08033302331
As 75 per cent of farm produce come from the rural areas with women contributing close to 70 per cent of the workforce, yet most farmers in the hinterland have little or nothing to show for their efforts.
Though Nigeria was ranked 17 out of 78 countries suitable for investing in vitamin A cassava, 70 per cent of farmers in the rural areas across the country live below poverty and suffer from micronutrient malnutrition with 65 per cent of their children either out of school or the female ones pregnant at a tender age.
Malnutrition and development of rural areas should be issues of concern for stakeholders and policymakers, as it was clearly stated by the World Bank that Nigeria loses over $1.5 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to vitamin and mineral deficiencies annually.
To address this challenge, bio-fortification provides one of the best ways to achieve improvements in nutrition. Crop breeders at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and HarvestPlus, have worked assiduously to develop cassava varieties that serve as sources of vitamin A.
In order to improve the living standard of farmers in the rural areas across the 36 states of the country, there is need to develop the economy through bio-fortified crops like vitamin A cassava, which is the largest nutritious traditional food in Nigeria and Africa.
Daily Sun investigation revealed that vitamin A cassava can be processed into 25 different products cutting from the conventional products like garri, fufu and some more innovative products like combo bite, custard, casmoi, pap, cassava chips, moi-moi and several other products.
It was also revealed that a set of students from one of the Colleges of Agriculture in Southwest made millions of naira from selling vitamin A cassava stems in 2016. As at last year, a bundle of vitamin A cassava stems was sold for N300 but now sells for N600. This means there is huge economic value in vitamin A cassava, which can help farmers in the rural areas improve their income.
Presently in Nigeria, poor families are finding it difficult to access nutritious foods and majority of Nigerian children under five years are grossly malnourished. It is on record that malnutrition is wiping out children under the age of five, especially in northern part of the country.
Stakeholders argue that Nigeria could save the $1.5 billion lost to vitamin and mineral deficiencies every year only if government can invest in bio-fortified crops like vitamin A cassava, vitamin A maize, among others, so as to develop nutritional value of foods produced in the country.
There are some governors who have adopted vitamin A cassava and are providing funds and purchasing stems for their farmers.
For instance, Ebonyi, Anambra and Akwa Ibom states have recorded major feats in this regard, and a lot has happened in Ondo State as well. In Oyo, a lot of individuals are driving the trend there and some farmers in Niger State.
Bio-fortification is a process by which crops are bred in a way that increases their nutritional value. The idea behind bio-fortification is to breed nutritious plants, a process which experts consider much cheaper than adding micronutrients to already processed foods. It is a smart method to fight malnutrition, according to agriculturists and nutritionists.
Speaking with Daily Sun, HarvestPlus Country Manager, Nigeria, Paul Ilona, said the biggest business in Nigeria is food, noting that 180 million Nigerians must eat everyday.
He said this, by implication, means that any well organised, well segmented and strategised technology in the food sector will, to a large extent, contribute to national food security much as it will contribute to income generation for rural farmers.
He explained: “Therefore, bio-fortified crops and foods are very much in this line and because bio-fortified crops now are even richer, they are of the higher quality than conventional foods. It then means there is a bigger market sector for it because today everybody wants to eat good food. The era where you eat just for quantity sake is gone, but today, eat little and let that little give the nutrient you need and this bio-fortification is all about making crops to be naturally nutritious.
“If we get it right, then it is not just a case of making food available for Nigerians. Our rural farmers will make a living, and get higher income by producing and marketing more nutritious foods. What we have done in the past is, we trained our farmers, especially target women in rural areas, and we have some of them today who are making a living by processing vitamin A cassava into different food products and having them marketed.”
Speaking on the misconception that trailed the introduction of bio-fortified cassava that it was genetically modified by GMO, he said there was no iota of truth in it and that vitamin A cassava has no relation at all with genetically modified organism. He said vitamin A cassava was developed through conventional breeding similar to most other improved varieties that are cultivated by farmers in Nigeria and it has higher load of essential vitamin A compared to any other variety around.
He said: “We don’t blame Nigerians, especially the outspoken ones, for thinking in that direction because for you now to see why cassava becomes yellow is like magic. It’s like you say albinos in Nigeria are genetically modified, which is not true. So it is the type of breed of the nature that happened in the breeding process that can give you an albino or give you yellow cassava or an albino cassava, more or less. The fact today is that the albino we have has value, which is like the albino in human. If today we are told an albino can live for 200 years, all of us will want to become an albino.
“In that misconception, I don’t blame Nigerians because there is a lot of information flying in the social media. The key thing is to find a way to explain it in the language they understand so that the technology will not be truncated by means of fallacy. It’s now very clear to everyone that vitamin A cassava has no relation at all with genetically modified organism,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director of Wilstoun Foods, Chukwuemeka Wilson, said, “the value addition in terms of percentage, if you look at the cassava root, after processing, you have about 50 per cent of vitamin A and cassava with other nutritional values like cassava flake, sugar and fibre will give you like 40 per cent. It is enriched with vitamin A. Most of these foods people produce and label them as fortified with vitamin A do not contain the vitamin; they just put the logo there.”
The cassava is enriched with vitamin A, like the pap, and one of the things it does, is to help with the correction of sight and also enriches the body.”
Wilson, who is currently working on vitamin A cassava and vitamin A maize to produce semovita, said that HarvestPlus has been developing rural economy with bio-fortified crops like vitamin A cassava, adding that government needs to support the farmers who are into processing of agro products by providing all the necessary inputs and facilities to process food that will be in tandem with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) standard.