Researchers have begun the dissemination of pro-vitamin A cassava varieties to rural households as part of efforts to tackle vitamin A deficiency in Nigeria.
Popularly known as yellow cassava, these new improved varieties hold part of the solution to Vitamin A deficiency in Africa. It is no longer news that vitamin A deficiency is widespread in Nigeria, afflicting about 20% of pregnant women and 30% of children below the age of 5. A deficiency in vitamin A leads to poor health, blindness, stunting, and even death.
Through decades of conventional breeding efforts, researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in partnership with the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, with funds from HarvestPlus, have been able to develop provitamin A cassava varieties to tackle this malnutrition menace.
The plan is 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 Akwa Ibom, Benue, Imo and Oyo States as regional hubs. HarvestPlus and partners plan to distribute 300,000 bundles of stems to 100,000 households in Nigeria in 2013 alone. Currently, more than 40,000 traceable farmers in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra, Benue, Edo, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and River 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. Stakeholders believe that rural households deserve better nutrition and the consumption of more nutritious crops is a good opportunity to reduce malnutrition globally.
Two Champions in Anambra State, His Royal Highness Igwe Obi Odimegwu, the Igwe Akwu-udughudu of Ubahuekwem Autonomous Community and His Royal Highness Igwe Gabriel Umeh, the Ezeudemba of Akwaezikenyi Kingdom, both in Ihiala LGA, were united in their efforts to introduce vitamin A cassava to their people to contribute to food and health security. In a very colorful ceremony held at Ihudim primary school Ihiala where over 500 farmers received planting materials of the new varieties, the two Kings praised the Federal government, IITA, NRCRI and HarvestPlus for making vitamin A cassava available to farmers in their communities. They pledged to partner with HarvestPlus in ensuring that all farmers in the local government produce, consume, and market vitamin A cassava products.
Paul Ilona, Country Manager for HarvestPlus advised farmers to cultivate the varieties and consume them sufficiently especially for the under 5 children 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.
During the dissemination exercises across the states in Nigeria, the Nutrition Unit of HarvestPlus displayed a variety of novel products that mothers could produce using the provitamin A cassava to enrich their family nutrition. Products displayed included cassava moi-moi, chin- chin, gari,and fufu. The success being recorded in the dissemination of these new varieties will be presented at the Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra Ghana. The Science Week is organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa.
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