Malnourishment is a widespread problem across the African continent. This is caused by a lack of essential micronutrients such as iodine, zinc and Vitamin A in people’s diets. Malnourishment is especially common within children under the age of 5 and young women.
However, new research had developed ‘Biofortified’ crops. These provide a solution to problems of malnourishment across Africa.
WHAT IS BIOFORTIFICATION?
Biofortification is the process of breeding special crops to improve their nutrient content. This means that they have a higher nutritional value.
The idea behind the process is to breed different types of these nutritious plants. This is a much cheaper process than adding micronutrients to processed foods. By making these special crops available to farmers across Africa, it is hoped that malnutrition will fall. Many biofortified crops will also help to increase farmers’ yields (the number of crops that it is possible to produce).
DOES BIOFORTIFICATION IMPROVE MALNOURISHMENT?
One of the largest aspects of malnutrition is a lack of vitamin A. A lack of vitamin A can cause very serious health problems, including causing preventable blindness in children.
However, Biofortification can develop special crops that contain a lot of vitamin A! In Uganda many farmers are growing a vitamin A-rich form of orange-fleshed sweet potato. This new crop is rich in ‘beta-carotene’. This is an organic compound that gets converted into vitamin A within the human body (once it has been eaten).
Using biofortified crops in Uganda, vitamin A levels have now increased in Ugandan children. This has improved their health and reduced serious illnesses.
THE REST OF AFRICA
Many other countries on the continent are beginning to use biofortification. Nigeria has plans to develop a vitamin A-rich type of cassava.
In Rwanda half a million farmers are growing new types of beans rich in iron. As well as helping malnourished people, these crops are producing higher yields. In many areas these beans are yielding almost 3 times as much produce! This surplus can be sold to produce more income for farmers.