By Mohammed Kandi
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said the bio-fortified cassava, which is rich in vitamin A, is becoming widespread in Africa, following the increasing awareness of its health and nutrition benefits.
A statement by Godwin Atser, Communication and Knowledge Exchange Expert in the institute disclosed that the cassava variety was fast changing the description of the crop as merely a root crop but often referred to as “Africa’s best kept secret.”
According to the statement, the crop is being consumed by over 300 million people in Africa, adding that “cassava has been marginalized in several debates because of myths and half-truths about its nutritional value and role in farming systems.”
“The greatest burden of the crop is the stigma of being considered an inferior, low-protein food that is uncompetitive with the glamorous crops such as imported rice and wheat,” it said.
Similarly, Deputy Director (Operations), HarvestPlus, Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer noted at a recent meeting that cassava is now viewed differently saying “but the perception about cassava is changing… with vitamin A cassava, we are not talking just about a crop that is rich in starch but about a crop that has one of the vitamins that are most important for human Development.”
He recalled that vitamin A cassava was bred by a coalition of partners, including International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and released in Nigeria in 2011.
“The first wave consisting of three varieties was disseminated to hundreds of thousands of farmers across the country. Farmers’adoption of the varieties is on an impressive scale and the appeal for the varieties has fuelled their spread for research trials to other African countries including Republic of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Ghana.
“Demand for the varieties is up and we have engaged farmers for multiplication,” Pfeiffer explained. “Our strategy is to get planting materials available to farmers so they can consume these nutritious varieties and improve their health.”