It is no longer news that Nigeria, producing over 34 million tonnes annually, is the largest producer of cassava in the world. But the recent spread of pro vitamin A cassava variety, popularly known as ‘yellow cassava’, across the country by HarvestPlus Nigeria, a research institute that is committed to breeding crops for better nutrition, is a welcome development that will complement the agricultural transformation action plan of the federal government.
Speaking with Tell Communications last week, Ifeoma Okonkwo, communication assistant, HarvestPlus, explained that the institute is building partnerships to rapidly multiply and provide the vitamin A-rich crop in the diets of over 70 million Nigerians and contribute to reducing the vitamin deficiency, which is widespread in the country. “Vitamin A boosts immunity and vision. Lack of it afflicts almost 20 per cent of pregnant women and about 30 per cent of children under five years old in Nigeria. The nutrient can be found in green leaf vegetables, carrots and eggs among others but these are rarely eaten in the quantity needed, so it is important we make it available in the crop,” she added. According to her, the development and dissemination of ‘yellow cassava’ would complement current efforts to address Vitamin A deficiency, VAD, by delivering the nutrient through a staple food consumers eat every day.
The Vitamin A cassava was developed through conventional breeding similar to most other improved varieties that are cultivated by farmers in Nigeria. To increase the low nutrient in the conventional crop to a level that can have an impact on health, breeders conducted a series of crosses among selected parents and evaluated their promising progenies during a period of over 10 years.