Vitamin A fortified cassava products: expect this healthy option soon on your table — As an undergraduate studying Food Science, I had always questioned why Cassava products especially Garri was only known for its starch content. Just as I pondered about it, I never knew research was already on going on the bio fortification of cassava with Vitamin A. Not too long after graduation, all I read in the pages of newspapers was the first release of cassava stems that had been fortified with Vitamin A via genetic engineering process. Elated I was. Finally, Cassava, our own most consumed food can have its place in competing with other staples in terms of nutritional content.
A Brief Description Of Cassava
Cassava is scientifically called Manihot esculenta is a staple crop common to hundreds of millions of people in Africa. It is the third largest source of carbohydrates after Rice and Maize. Nigeria is the largest producer of Cassava in the whole world while Thailand is the largest exporter. It will also interest you to know that Cassava can be classified into sweet and bitter types. Both contain anti nutritional compounds with more in bitter type. That’s why the job of cassava processing is carried out by experienced people to avoid carcinogenic reactions.
Why Cassava Was Chosen For Fortification
Over the years many of us have consumed different processed products that had been fortified. Some include fortified salt with iodine, fortified flour with vitamin A and fortified milk with vitamin D. Clearly, this products fortified with different nutrients have not achieved the aim of reducing severe acute malnutrition as most of them are only consumed adequately in the urban communities leaving the rural communities with Cassava and Maize. Cassava was chosen because it is a staple consume majorly by rural communities where nutrient deficiency is highest. Fortifying a root tuber like cassava will actually make the goal of improving the health status of Africans improve as most of our meals come from cassava and yet only providing large chunk of carbohydrate with negligible amount of other nutrients. Some common Cassava foods are Eba, Fufu, lafu, Abacha and Usi.
Why We Should Support The Consumption Of Fortified Cassava Products
According to WHO Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality. Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, hitting hardest young children and pregnant women in low- income countries. The body also states that an estimated 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient and it is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas a substantial proportion of pregnant women is vitamin A deficient. An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. The need to fortify a major staple is necessary to reduce the prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency in Africa.
Which body carried out the research on cassava vitamin a fortification?
Vitamin A Cassava was bred by a conglomerate of partners, including International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) with Harvestplus; an international organisation spearheading the project and released in Nigeria in December 2011.
Why Vitamin A Fortified Cassava Products Are Not Popular Yet
- The production ability of the Vitamin A fortified cassava is still an issue as the white cassava ( Original type) yield between 30-35 metric tonnes per hectare of land while the yellow Cassava type ( Vitamin A fortified) yield between 20-24 metric tonnes per hectare. This is a serious concern for farmers due to low yields.
- Some farmers love their cassava to stay in the ground for as long as they want usually between 12- 24 months after maturity but this new variant of cassava will rot after not harvested with 12 months. Farmers are clamouring for an improved variant that can make the specie compete with the convectional cassava tuber.
- Asides the above mentioned reasons, regardless of how wonderful an idea or a product is, people’s mind set, especially rural dweller tend to be rigid. It will take a lot of sensitization and practical trainings for farmers and cassava processors to help eliminate any belief that has hindered them from trying the new variant of cassava which is healthier.
The Advantages Of Vitamin A Fortified Cassava Products
- This is a novel development and I keep repeating to those who care to listen that children do not have to be blind because of lack of Vitamin A. Most of us do not believe this but a trip to rural community based missions to see how local people have been affected due to vitamin deficiency will shock you. With the proliferation of this variant cassava, all bye products of cassava would automatically have Vitamin A thereby nourishing the diets of children and women all around Africa and beyond. Through this initiative Vitamin A deficiency can be greatly reduced if not eradicated.
- To processors and consumer, this variant of cassava is cost effective. This is because there is no need to buy gallons of palm oil to convert cassava products to yellow as seen in yellow Garri. Direct processing will produce yellow products which are not only attractive but reduces cost of processing.
So friends when you visit restaurants and request for Eba or Fufu and it turns out to be yellow in colour, do not attempt to reject it or call it “eba ibo”, it could be the Vitamin A fortified cassava that had led to the colour. You can simply ask if you do not like the ones made with palm oil. It is healthy and even tastes great based on the reports of the researchers. I have not been privilege to have a taste but if you had tasted it before, please share your comments and opinions on it as it will be appreciated.
#SUPPORT VITAMIN A FORTIFIED CASSAVA