Nigeria makes history: launches Pro Vitamin A Cassava varieties

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Nigeria has made history with the formal launch of three varieties of beta-carotene cassava for multiplication among farmers across the country. This is the first time in Africa where pro-Vitamin A cassava varieties have been developed and released.

The three varieties that compare favourably in pro Vitamin A, came out of more intense selection and conventional breeding work from 20varieties earlier identified.

It was launched at the National Roots Crops Research Institute (NCRI),Umudike, Abia state in southern Nigeria.

Speaking at the launch of the Cassava variety which he described as “a revolution for nutrition and health in Nigeria” the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, this successful effort is part of the drive of the Federal Government to transform agriculture.

The stem cuttings of the pro Vitamin A varieties are being multiplied in 10 local governments of four pilot states, namely, Oyo, Benue, Imo, Akwa Ibom and Abia States. The target is to reach 50,000 farm families by 2013 in all these States.

According to Dr. Adeshina, Nigeria’s focus is to create new markets for cassava: these he said, includes high quality cassava flour, to be used in replacing some of the wheat flour being imported to produce bread, high fructose cassava syrup to replace the 200,000 MT of sugar currently being used in the juice manufacturing industry, dried cassava chips, and the production of ethanol.”

“Our goal is to add an additional 17 million MT of cassava to our domestic food supply. The Agricultural Transformation Action Plan hopes to create 1.3 million jobs across the cassava value chains. But producing more food is not enough. We must also ensure that there is enhanced food nutrition and health.” He said.

The Pro Vitamin Cassava varieties are also necessitated by the nutritional status of Nigerians, especially children.

The Minister said it was crucial that Nigeria accelerates efforts and policy measures on improving health and nutrition of vulnerable groups, especially women, infants and children.

Dr. Adesina said scaling up core micronutrient interventions would cost less than 188 million dollars per year. This he said can be achieved through nutritional supplementation, diversity of diets and bio-fortification.

These Pro Vitamin A or beta carotene varieties of cassava would go a long way in correcting the deficiency of this nutrient in diets, particularly those of the poor and the vulnerablebecause cassava is still a cheap crop, affordable to most people, the beta-carotene variety will go a long way in helping to correct individual and household vitamin A deficiency.He said.

The Minister said that greater effort will be needed to increase the nutrition capacity within the Ministries of Health and Agriculture and Rural Development; improve infant and young child feeding through effective education and counselling services; increase coverage of vitamin A cassava within the nation, with the aim of popularising the Pro Vitamin A Cassava.

He emphasises the need to also “promote its use for assorted products, improving dietary diversity through promoting home production of a diversity of foods. “

Nigeria has already released the cassava bread. In the Minister’s words; “the President has set a clear direction: we must eat what we produce, and produce what we eat. Mr President eats cassava bread. Our cassava flour policy is directed at replacing some of the wheat flour in bread, to save over 250 Billion Naira annually in wheat imports. Our research institutes, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Federal Institute for Industrial Research, have produced cassava bread.

Cassava is one of the major crops under Nigeria’s Transformation Agenda.

Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformational Action

The Nigerian Government of Nigeria has launched an Agricultural Transformation Action Plan. This plan, called ATA, has as its goal the addition of 20 Million MT of food to the domestic food supply.

It focuses on agriculture as a business, not a development program; it focuses on developing agricultural value chains that can allow farmers to make money from what they produce, through greater value addition.

Background

Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, producing over 34 million MT annually. Cassava used to be a subsistence crop. It is highly adaptable and well suited for addressing the challenge of climate change, due to its high tolerance to drought.

In the 1980s, a cassava revolution occurred in Nigeria, with the release of the TMS cassava varieties by the NRCI and the International Roots Crops Research Institute.

These high yielding varieties, with high starch contents, and resistance to diseases and pests, were rapidly multiplied across the country. The successes achieved in Nigeria with the control of the cassava mealy bug and cassava mosaic virus came from improved application of science, especially plant genetics and integrated pest management practices.

State of Nigerian children

UNICEF reports show that 43 per cent of under-five children in Nigeria are stunted. This is high when compared to 39 per cent for all developing countries; 26 per cent in Ghana; 25 per cent in Benin; 29 per cent in Botswana, Burkina Faso and Cameroon; and 33 per cent in Kenya.

Nigeria’s ranks 158th out of 182 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI), with life expectancy of 48 years; risk of maternal death of one in 18; and under-five mortality rate of 186 per 1,000 live births. Nigeria’s stunting prevalence puts it as the 32nd-highest out of 136 countries.

Nigeria has the third highest absolute number of children, who are stunted, with 41 per cent of children under the age of five stunted, 23per cent underweight, and 14 per cent wasted. Moreover, 14 per cent of infants are born with a low birth weight.

Although the overall prevalence of stunting and underweight has been decreasing over the past two decades, progress in Nigeria may not be sufficient to meet MDG’s goal of halving 1990 rates of child underweight by 2015. Annually, Nigeria loses over 1.5 billion dollars in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as many staple foods are low in essential micronutrients.

NCRI

The National Roots Crops Research Institute (NCRI) is one of the very best in the country. It is the first Institute in Nigeria to conduct research in Biotechnology by the establishment of a Tissue Culture Laboratory in 1990.

It was also among the first research institutions to begin research in improving the nutritional contents if starchy root crops such as sweet potato and cassava.

According to the Minister, “your work over the decades has put Nigeria on the global map on root and tubers research.”

The institute works on cassava, yams, sweet potato, cocoyam, but you are most famous for your work on cassava

Source - Voice of Nigeria

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