When we talk of food security, we’re not just talking about filling your stomach. Nutritional security is also embedded within the concept.
Nutritional balance comes with a diverse diet, one that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and animal products. However, millions of people in Africa rely principally on staple foods such as rice, potatoes and maize that fill up the stomachs but do not provide enough vitamins and minerals. This phenomenon is known as hidden hunger.
A lack of vitamins and minerals in our diets has exposes us to the risk of disease, blindness, and stunting, among other problems. Children are the most vulnerable to hidden hunger. Vitamin A and mineral deficiency, common in children and pregnant women in the developing world, causes night blindness and also increases the risk of maternal mortality.
In response, HarvestPlus and CGIAR (CIMMYT and CIAT), participants in the ongoing 6th FARA Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana, are breeding yellow maize, sweet potatoes and cassava that are high in Vitamin A and minerals. These three crops are generally rich in carbohydrates, but selective breeding has developed varieties that also contain high levels of critical vitamin A and mineral supplements.
Vitamin A-rich maize, for example, is a high-yielding, disease-resistant and drought-tolerant variety that also provides up to 25% of the daily vitamin A requirement. The commonly grown white maize varieties provide almost none. If yellow maize were on everyone’s table, we would be looking at a healthier and more productive Africa.
In their quest to improve nutrition and public health, HarvestPlus, CGIAR and other stakeholders continue to develop staple food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals. This task will go a long way in supplying vitamins and essential minerals to millions of people, especially in rural areas where most of the poor and nutritionally insecure live.
Hidden hunger can conceal itself no longer!
Blogpost by Armwell Shumba, a social media reporter for AASW6.