By CHIOMA OBINNA
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has commended the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for successfully leading efforts in developing provitamin A cassava varieties.
Obasanjo who made the commendation during a closed door meeting with Director General of IITA, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga in Abeokuta described the effort as commendable.
The provitamin A cassava varieties which are the first ever biofortified crops in Nigeria, were developed by IITA with funding from HarvestPlus. The National Root Crops Research Institute was a local partner.
Sanginga said the varieties would offer consumers more nutritious food recipes especially gari -a form of processed cassava grated and roasted into granules.
In Nigeria, vitamin A deficiency afflicts about 20 percent of pregnant women and 30 percent of children under five. Most of those afflicted live in the rural areas where poverty is relatively higher.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akin Adesina said during the launch: “Economically, annual losses in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in Nigeria are estimated at over US$1.5 billion.”
Apart from offering more access to vitamin A, the improved varieties will reduce the cost of producing cassava recipes such as gari by eliminating the use of palm oil which hitherto has been used by many farmers to attain the yellowish colour.
Obasanjo added that with the development gari being produced from these varieties will have a higher shelf life.
The former president emphasised that the yellow-root cassava varieties would help in tackling vitamin A deficiency and also make cassava products such as gari more nutritious.
Responding, Sanginga said that the development of the varieties was a major breakthrough that would change the nutritional status of people living on cassava-based food.
He also noted that plans by the Nigerian government to include cassava in bread would get a boost with the inclusion of the more nutritious varieties, adding that, these efforts require the support of all stakeholders.
Released by the Nigerian National Varietal Release Committee, the vitamin A cassava varieties are named UMUCASS 36, UMUCASS 37, and UMUCASS 38; and are recognized as IITA genotypes TMS 01/1368, TMS 01/1412, and TMS 01/1371, respectively.
The yellow root colour of the vitamin A-rich varieties are products of over 20 years of breeding efforts for improved nutritional quality using traditional breeding methods involving hybridization and selection of cassava seedlings followed by clonal propagation of the selected desirable plants. Farmers who participated in the trials of the varieties across Nigeria loved the varieties for their high-yielding ability and resistance to major diseases and pests.