A new study has found that by eating vitamin A biofortified cassava, Nigerian preschool children significantly increased their vitamin A intake and status.

In the rural areas of Telemu, Ashamu, and Ilemowu in Osun State, young Nigerian children aged 3-5 years old were fed vitamin A biofortified yellow cassava or traditional white cassava to evaluate its impact on health. Biofortified cassava is yellow because it is rich in vitamin A (provitamin A carotenoids), an essential nutrient responsible for the yellow, orange, and red color in many fruits and vegetables. White cassava, by contrast, contains no vitamin A.

For approximately three months, children ate either vitamin A biofortified yellow cassava or non-biofortified white cassava twice a day as oinmoin and garri for breakfast and eba (with okra) or ewedu vegetable stew for lunch. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that children who consumed more vitamin A from biofortification experienced modest, though significant, improvements in their vitamin A status (serum retinol) and hemoglobin concentrations (a measure of anemia) compared to children eating white cassava.

This study reinforces previous findings that found school-aged children (5-13 years old) in Kenya experienced improvement in their vitamin A status when eating yellow cassava.

Almost one-third of preschool children are estimated to be vitamin A deficient in Nigeria. Reducing and preventing vitamin A deficiency in Nigeria remains a challenge; year-round dietary diversify is largely out of reach, bi-annual vitamin A supplementation is only provided to about half of children, and fortified foods are often inaccessible to rural families.  

Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, and most of its over 56 million metric tonnes per year is produced by smallholder farmers. Biofortification therefore provides a solution to prevent vitamin A deficiency based on the foods people already grow and eat every day. When eaten twice daily, yellow cassava can provide up to 100 percent of daily vitamin A needs. As of 2019, over 1.5 million Nigerians were already growing vitamin A cassava varieties. 

HarvestPlus follows an impact pathway of discovery, development, and delivery. In the discovery and development stages, nutrition research is conducted to identify target populations and determine staple food consumption patterns, set nutrient target levels for the staple crops, screen and determine breeding feasibility for target crops, evaluate nutrient retention and bioavailability, and test the nutrition impact on people—ultimately providing proof of concept for delivery. Each vitamin A biofortified crop (yellow cassava, orange sweet potato, and orange maize) has been proven to have a positive impact at every step along this pathway to efficacy (to date, only OSP has been evaluated in an effectiveness ‘real-world’ study). Delivery progress is measured in outcomes such as adoption and diffusion, captured through HarvestPlus’ rigorous monitoring and evaluation system. Assessments of the cost-effectiveness and impact of various delivery and promotion strategies are tested along staple crop value chains to catalyze scale-up.