HarvestPlus offers panacea for micronutrient deficiencies
The Director of HarvestPlus, Dr Howarth Bouis, has said that developing and delivering crops that carry essential micronutrients to the vulnerable population is key to solving the global problem of micronutrient deficiencies, known as hidden hunger.
Dr Bouis, who was in Nigeria on a working visit, said this during a lecture he delivered at the Conference Centre of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan recently. He highlighted why mineral and vitamin deficiencies constitute a significant public health problem and efforts by stakeholders to address the problem through dietary diversification, supplementation to children aged zero to 59 months, food fortification, and biofortification.
He described bio-fortification, which is the breeding of crops to increase their nutritional value, as the most viable and cost-effective strategy in the chain of solutions adopted by policymakers. This is so because 75 per cent of target vulnerable population live in the rural areas where they eat mostly what they plant, making the staple crops carry essential vitamin and minerals, providing a great opportunity to reach them in a costeffective and sustainable way.
Delivering a lecture entitled, “Bio-fortification of Food Staples: Progress and Future Strategy,” Dr Bouis gave account of the progress HarvestPlus has made on bio-fortification project from conceptualisation, breeding of crops, delivering of seeds to farmers for multiplication, production, value addition to select food staples, marketing and consumption of food products in over 27 countries where the crops - cassava, maize, cowpea, sorghum, millet, wheat, rice, and orange sweet potato - have been released.
Examining the consequences of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, Bouis said, “Available record shows that 375,000 children go blind every year and a sizeable others die due to Vitamin A deficiency. Iron deficiency leads to impaired cognitive abilities that are not reversible while zinc deficiency increase incidence of severe diarrhea and stunting, as well as over 450,000 deaths annually.”