The Nigerian Government announced in December, the release of three new vitamin A-rich ‘yellow’ cassava varieties that could provide more vitamin A in the diets of over 70 million Nigerians who eat cassava every day. The yellow color – cassava is generally white – is due to the higher vitamin A content.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is widely prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. It afflicts almost 20% of pregnant women and about 30% of children under-five in Nigeria. VAD can lower immunity and impair vision, which can lead to blindness and even death.
Children and women will be the main beneficiaries of these new yellow varieties, which could provide up to 25% of their daily vitamin A needs. Varieties with enough vitamin A to provide up to half of daily needs are already in the breeding pipeline and should be ready for release in a few years.
These new yellow varieties were bred using traditional (non-transgenic) methods by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and were liked by farmers during field trials. Cassava is an extremely adaptable crop; it is drought tolerant, requires limited land preparation, and grows well in poor soils. The new yellow varieties are also high yielding and resistant to major diseases and pests.
“Demand for these varieties has already started, but it will take some time before we have enough quantities to give out,” said Paul Ilona, the HarvestPlus Manager for Nigeria.
The yellow cassava is already being multiplied through stem cuttings. In 2013, when sufficient certified stems are available, HarvestPlus and its partners will initially distribute these to about 25,000 farming households. Farmers will be able to grow these new vitamin A varieties and feed them to their families. They can also multiply and share cuttings with others in their community amplifying the nutritional benefits. After the mid-2014 harvest, more than 150,000 household members are expected to be eating vitamin A cassava.
This work is funded by HarvestPlus, which leads a global effort to breed and disseminate micronutrient-rich staple food crops to reduce hidden hunger in malnourished populations. Other partners include the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), and Nigerian Government agencies. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health, which is coordinated by CIAT and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).