Biofortified crops steal the spotlight

 AASW participants viewing vitamin A cassava at the CGIAR booth during AASW6.

AASW participants viewing vitamin A cassava at the CGIAR booth during AASW6.

Two biofortified crops both conventionally bred to contain more vitamin A, have attracted strong interest at the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) in Accra Ghana.

Since the start of the week-long event at the Accra International Conference Center on July 15, scores of people have enquired about the biofortified vitamin A maize and vitamin A cassava on display at the CGIAR booth. HarvestPlus is exhibiting these two crops as part of its participation alongside sister CGIAR partners at the sixth edition of the AASW.

Interest in the biofortified crops and the work of HarvestPlus has also been evident beyond the exhibition space. HarvestPlus Nigeria Country Manager Paul Ilona participated in an IITA-moderated discussion on cassava, where a key message recommended a utilitarian approach to crop breeding, including improving nutrition.

While high yields and processing value were of concern during the discussion, participants also underscored the importance of improving the nutritional content of food crops. Currently, HarvestPlus is disseminating cassava biofortified with vitamin A in Nigeria, where an estimated 35 percent of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency, increasing their vulnerability to immune system weakness and even blindness.

HarvestPlus expects to reach 100,000 farming households in Nigeria with Vitamin A-rich cassava by 2014.

A separate side event included a presentation by HarvestPlus Country Manager Eliab Simpungwe on the dissemination of vitamin A maize in Zambia. Maize is the most widely-consumed staple food crop in Zambia, but the regular white variety lacks micronutrients, and nearly 50 percent of Zambian children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

The improved maize varieties released by HarvestPlus in Zambia can meet up to 25 percent of daily vitamin A needs. Over 100,000 Zambian farming households are expected to be producing and consuming vitamin A maize by 2014.

Besides Zambia and Nigeria, HarvestPlus is also disseminating vitamin A-rich staple crops in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The AASW is a triennial event bringing together stakeholders of Africa’s agricultural development to review progress and lessons learned, and to determine an agenda for the future. It is convened by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). Over 1,000 representatives from the research, academic, governmental and private sectors across Africa are attending the event, organized around the theme “Africa Feeding Africa through Agricultural Science and Innovation.”

HarvestPlus leads a global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing and disseminating staple food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals. It is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by its 15 research centers in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations. The HarvestPlus program is coordinated the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Blogpost by Denis Okello.

Photo: D. Okello (HarvestPlus)

3 thoughts on “Biofortified crops steal the spotlight

  1. Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… This is exciting. A few weeks ago I blogged about orange-fleshed sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), rich in Vitamin A. Now here’s Vitamin A-rich maize (corn, Zea mays) and cassava (Manihot esculenta). I hope farmers choose to grow them and that people choose to eat them. Do they yield well? Do they taste good?

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