Washington, DC. Nigerian farmers and households can now expect to grow and eat more nutritious cassava following the release of three new varieties that are richer in vitamin A than similarly biofortified varieties introduced three years ago.
The new varieties contain higher amounts of beta-carotene – the substance that the body converts to vitamin A – and are at least six times more nutritious than the common white-fleshed cassava. They were developed by scientists from the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). HarvestPlus and the Cassava Transformation Agenda of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development provided financial support.
“We are excited about these new cassava varieties and their potential to contribute to improved nutritional status among Nigerians, particularly among children and women,” says Paul Ilona, the HarvestPlus Nigeria Country Manager. “We applaud the breakthrough work by NRCRI and IITA, and remain committed to our partnership to develop and disseminate nutritious cassava varieties to reach more and more Nigerians in the coming years.”
Cassava is a major staple food in Nigeria, consumed daily by more than 100 million people. However, while the commonly available white cassava can provide most of the body’s daily energy requirements, it lacks micronutrients, such as vitamin A, that are essential for a healthy and productive life. Vitamin A deficiency can impair the body’s immunity to infectious diseases and cause eye damage that can lead to blindness and even death. Nearly one in three Nigerian children under five and one-quarter of all pregnant women in the country are vitamin A deficient.
The newly released vitamin A cassava varieties can provide up to 40 percent of the vitamin A recommended daily allowance for children under five. They are twenty-five percent richer in beta-carotene than the first set of vitamin A cassava varieties released in 2011 and which are now being grown by over 250,000 Nigerian farmers. The newer improved varieties are expected to gradually replace the earlier ones.
In addition to their higher beta-carotene content, vitamin A cassava varieties also boast improved pest- and disease-resistance traits, and are high yielding. They were all developed through conventional breeding in a novel process called biofortification. HarvestPlus and partners expect to reach more than 350,000 Nigerian households with vitamin A cassava in 2014 alone through an innovative e-market system. The system involves commercial multiplication and sale of the varieties by medium-scale farmers and a farmer-to-farmer dissemination arrangement that ensures poor farmers receive stems freely.
Related stories on vitamin A cassava: Cassava Farmers, Traders, Processors Linked to e-Market (Nigerian Tribune) Vitamin A Cassava Dissemination Officially Launched in Nigeria (HarvestPlus) Vitamin A-enhanced Cassava Fights Malnutrition (VoA) Nigeria: Knotty Cassava Tubers Can Change a Nation (Think Africa Press)