Cassava has been called the “Rambo” of food crops for its resilience to climate change. It can grow in poor soils and withstand disease, drought, and pests.
Now cassava isn’t just the toughest crop on the block, it’s also more nutritious. HarvestPlus and its partners have bred new varieties of cassava that provide vitamin A, an essential nutrient lacking in the diets of malnourished populations.
On March 16, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the National Root Crop Research Institute of Nigeria (NRCRI), and HarvestPlus launched a program to distribute vitamin A-rich cassava to 50,000 households throughout Nigeria. The event was attended by the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, who spoke about the alarming level of vitamin A deficiency in Nigeria.
He praised the supplementation and fortification efforts of the Federal Government to help address vitamin A deficiency. He also commended the joint work of IITA and NRCRI with support from HarvestPlus to complement these efforts through biofortification, acknowledging that it is a cheaper and more sustainable strategy to address vitamin A deficiency. The Minister requested a standing ovation for the scientists from NRCRI, IITA, and HarvestPlus who worked on vitamin A cassava and bestowed upon each a “Ministerial Excellence Award.”
HarvestPlus and its partners have already begun to disseminate vitamin A-rich cassava in Nigeria. Reporting from the event in Umudike, HarvestPlus Nigeria Country Manager Paul Ilona said that progress has been made in disseminating vitamin A cassava stems to 50,000 Nigerian households by 2013.
“Today the Minister of Agriculture lauded our efforts,” said Ilona, “and stated that the government will support multiplication and dissemination of these varieties to reach 1.8 million farmers in the coming years under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Federal Government.”
Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, as well as one of the largest consumers of the crop. In Nigeria, hidden hunger is a serious problem, with 30% of children under-five estimated to be vitamin A deficient.
But with the support of the Nigerian government, HarvestPlus and its partners hope to reduce the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency through these new cassava varieties.
Government launches three pro-Vitamin A cassava varieties,The Guardian (Nigeria), March 19, 2012.
A Brighter Future for Cassava, World Watch Institute, Nourishing The Planet Blog, January 6, 2012