Nigeria government has partnered with HarvestPlus to cutting down on the number of persons afflicted with vitamin A deficiency as well as improving food security by distributing pro-vitamin A cassava stems to farmers.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akin Adesina, and the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, jointly inaugurated the dissemination of the cassava planting materials in Uyo.
The HarvestPlus Country Manager, Paul Ilona, said the strategy was to distribute 300,000 bundles of stems to 100,000 households in Nigeria in 2013 alone, and support the emergence of a sustainable seed system to make the stems available to all farmers in the years ahead.
More than 40,000 traceable farmers in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra, Benue, Edo, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Rivers states received the stems in June and July, while more states would have them before the end of August.
The Deputy Director-General, Partnerships and Capacity Development, the IITA, Dr Kenton Dashiell, said, “The World Health Organisation estimates that about 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.”
Efforts by the government to solve this malady, according to the statement, involve the fortification of products such as wheat, soft drinks, flour, and sugar with vitamin A. It also noted the bio-fortification of cassava aimed to amplify the efforts, by taking vitamin A to people who might not be able to afford the cost of fortified foods.
Commonly referred to as yellow cassava, the pro-vitamin A cassava varieties, it recalled, were products of decades of conventional breeding efforts by researchers at IITA in partnership with the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, with funds from HarvestPlus.
The Executive Director, NRCRI, Dr JC Okonkwo, called on farmers to cultivate the varieties and consume them sufficiently, especially for children under five, and pregnant women for better health and nutrition. He also encouraged farmers to give the stems to their neighbours at the time of harvest to ensure rapid dissemination of the planting materials.
Besides improving the health and nutrition of the people, the cultivation of the varieties, he said, could provide jobs, improve incomes, and lift poor households out of poverty.