Scientists launch nutrition enrichment project in Africa

Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has launched HarvestPlus, a $100- million 10-year project aimed at increasing nutrition intake in sub-Saharan Africa.
Abebe Menkir, a senior official of the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), told a news conference after the launch Tuesday in Lagos that the project would improve the nutritional value of major staple crops by increasing their nutrient contents of iron, zinc and the precursors to vitamin A.
"Most poor people in rural Africa do not eat well-balanced diets, as they depend heavily on starchy staples like cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes.
"These provide calories and energy but are low in key micronutrients essential to good health," he said, adding that people only eat what they can afford.
Abebe, who is the leader for IITA in HarvestPlus, said: "According to the World Heath Report of 2002, malnutrition contributed to the premature deaths of 1.
8 million people in Africa.
" "It is time to add the plus.
More nutritious food will be a foundation for development in Africa," he declared.
Abebe said the research institute, based in Nigeria's southwestern city of Ibadan, would work on the nutritional enhancement of three crops -- cassava, maize and sweet potato -- which he said were vitally important to people in Africa.
"IITA bring its world-class expertise in plant breeding, biotechnology, food science, and farmer-participatory methods to the project," he said.
Another IITA official, Bussie Mziya-Dixon, said the institute had been identifying high carotene cassava for more than 25 years.
"The goal now will be to combine that with high yield, disease resistance, and good taste," she said, adding "In maize, IITA has started work on increasing iron, zinc and beta-carotene content and will continue to refine and enhance that work.
" Mziya-Dixon, a food scientist, said IITA scientists in Mozambique had worked extensively on sweet potato to increase beta-carotene content.
"In addition to breeding for higher micronutrient content, scientists in the team will test whether the nutrients are actually available when the food is digested," the food scientist said.
The Bill Gates Foundation has supported the innovative nutrition programme with $25 million.

15 october 2003 07:47:00

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