HarvestPlus Nigeria is targeting to provide bio-fortified crops to about 200 million households by 2030 in order to boost its contribution to the battle against malnutrition in the country.
Paul Ilona, country manager, HarvestPlus Nigeria, made this known recently while speaking to members of the Food and Agriculture Writers Organisation of Nigeria (FAWON) in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Ilona stated that in another 10 years from now, Nigeria’s population would have risen by about 40 per cent to about 280 million, hence HarvestPlus was targeting to provide bio-fortified crops to millions of farmers to produce crops with rich with essential nutrients for development.
Ilona revealed that although it was not an imposed target but an estimation of how HarvesPlus intended to affect the feeding and nutrition pattern of Nigerians with bio-fortified crops such as maize, cassava and orange-fleshed potato.
“Globally, we are targeting one billion people but HavestPlus Nigeria is tasking itself to reach 200million in Nigeria out of that number by 2030,” he said.
Most Nigerian families can hardly afford foods with high nutritional value, forcing them to feed mostly on starchy foods which are very high in carbohydrates and are often cheaper.
Owing to this, there is a rise in the number of malnourished persons in the country, with available statistics indicating that over 90 percent of Nigerians experience diverse forms of malnutrition.
This is coupled with the high rate of poverty which is not in any way showing signs of decreasing due to the harsh economic situation, high unemployment rate and insurgency in the northern region of the country.
To change the narrative of the burden of malnutrition in Nigeria, especially in children, HarvestPlus Nigeria have pioneered a simple but transformative technique to increase the nutritional value of staple food crops such as sweet potatoes, beans, maize, and cassava amongst others through the bio-fortification of these crops for farmers.
These improved varieties of crops provide higher amounts of vitamin A, iron, and zinc—the three micronutrients identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as most lacking in diets globally.
Ilona stated that the strategy to reach millions of Nigerians is to engage many more medium and large scale food processors who will become off-takers from the millions of farmers who are cultivating bio-fortified crops.
“We think that if we strengthen the partnership with food processors it is going to add a lot more value. We have identified quite a number of multinationals and national food companies in Nigeria who are bio fortification-friendly,” he said.
“We will ensure that industries have access to bio- fortified raw materials and the products find their way to our target population.
“So that we can truly contribute to alleviating nutrition deficit and eliminate ailments associated with malnutrition and other challenges in the country,’’ he explained.
Bio-fortification is a feasible and cost-effective means of delivering micronutrients to populations that may have limited access to diverse diets and other micronutrient interventions.
It is a process by which crops are bred in a way that increases their nutritional value, a procedure experts say is much cheaper than adding micronutrients to already processed foods.
It has two key comparative advantages: its long-term cost-effectiveness and its ability to reach underserved, rural populations.