By Ugo Aliogo
As part of measures to tackle the malnutrition challenge in Nigeria, Harvestplus International has stated its resolve to work with five Seed Production Companies in Kaduna State to produce 1,000 metric tonnes of seeds for distribution to farmers in the next planting season.
Speaking at a media briefing at Ibadan weekend, the Country Manager, HarvestPlus International, Dr. Paul Ilona, said there was need to develop a strong seed distribution network to ensure that every Nigerian desirous of planting nutritious varieties have access to good seedlings.
He expressed confidence that the new varieties of Vitamin-A Maize are competitive, often producing higher yields than the white variety, adding that in 2016 they have been working with 16 partners, including the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Trade and Commerce and Education in the campaign to address the malnutrition crisis.
The briefing which was also aimed at reviewing the activities of various HarvestPlus officers in different states revealed that in December 2015, one million farmers in Nigeria grew Vitamin-A cassava, while in 2016 Vitamin-A maize was added to the food basket of nutritious food in Nigeria.
He said: “We have increased awareness on the need for Nigerians to consume nutritious foods. We have also developed a commercial foundation which has made it possible for thousands of Nigerians to gain employment and become commercial drivers in the production, processing and marketing of nutritious food including Vitamin-A cassava and Maize in Nigeria.
“If we make available staple foods that farmers produce, we would have played our role in addressing the malnutrition challenges we face as a nation. The challenge herein is to ensure that these varieties get to the hands of those who need them most. According to United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and the federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria, 2,300 children die daily and 145 of child-bearing age women also die daily. The Ministry of Health has proved that 53 per cent of these reasons are attributed to malnutrition. Most foods today are not fortified, a large proportion of people in Nigeria, especially in the rural areas don’t have access to fortified foods due to lack of information and poverty. Therefore, we need more strategic approach to address malnutrition in rural areas.”
An officer of HarvestPlus working in Benue State, Martha Akoje, said they have carried out a lot of awareness creation in the state including schools; where they supported young farmers with cassava stems to grow in their farms and have good nutrition within their schools, “we have also worked with schools through setting of quiz competitions about bio fortified Vitamin A.”
She stressed that they have also engaged youths and adults in the communities, adding that in communities they sensitise people and give them stems to plant, while encouraging them to begin viable businesses.
“In Benue State, through the Direct Multiplication (Household Packaged Cassava) we were able to give out cassava stems to 36,601 households. For those who did hectares of lands, they covered 391 hectares, therefore in every local government, we are there.”