Rather than adding palm oil to cassava powder to fry, in order to achieve Igbo garri, the most-sought after yellow garri especially among the Igbos (Eastern Nigeria); vitamin A cassava has more than what you need for a balanced meal from time to time. In recent agricultural breakthroughs, the introduction of vitamin A-enriched cassava is proving to be a game-changer in enhancing nutritional value. And one of the influencers of the planting of this variant in Nigeria is the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
In 2014, three newly-improved vitamin A cassava varieties with yellow roots were released by the Nigerian government, stepping up efforts to tackle the problem of vitamin A deficiency especially among women and children in the country. These new varieties were developed jointly by IITA and the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Abia State. Earlier in 2011, researchers from IITA and NRCRI with funds from HarvestPlus developed the first series of biofortified pro-vitamin A cassava varieties to help reduce the incidence of vitamin A deficiency especially in the rural communities. This variant of cassava, fortified with essential vitamins, particularly vitamin A, is addressing widespread micronutrient deficiencies and contributing significantly to improved public health. Asides that, these researchers confirm that it is high yielding, grows well even in poor soil conditions and is virus resistant. According to health experts, vitamin A cassava plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy vision, immune function, and skin integrity. Meanwhile, the conventional cassava, a staple in many diets, lacked this essential nutrient. However, through biofortification efforts, scientists have developed varieties of cassava with enhanced levels of vitamin A.
This innovation is especially significant in regions where cassava is a dietary staple, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Thailand, Tanzania, Congo, Latin America, Brazil, among others. Farmers like Mr. Albert Ukaeke in the Ido Local Government of Oyo State, are benefiting from the increased demand for this fortified cassava, providing them with new economic opportunities. Speaking with FarmingFarmersFarms, Ukaeke stated that he just finished harvesting the last batch of vitamin A cassava from that of last year which is not even enough for the demand he has from Lagos, for 50 bags of 50 kg vitamin A garri. Additionally, the enhanced nutritional content adds value to cassava farming, making it a more attractive and sustainable crop choice for agricultural communities.
Farmer Albert, a 73-year-old farmer said he is the only one, who produces as much as he does vitamin A cassava in his community. He, however, mentioned that if he were empowered with mechanisation, maybe he would have been producing more with is five hectares of land, as well as other farmers in the locality. Reports have it that this cassava dietary fortification is targeted at better nutrition in cassava food products such as garri, fufu, high quality cassava flour, cassava bread, and starch; as almost 20% of pregnant women and about 30% of children under the age of five, vitamin A deficiency results in stunting in children, predisposes them to sicknesses such as diarrhea and measles, and even premature death, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In pregnant women, vitamin A deficiency results in night blindness and increases the risk of mortality (WHO, 2013). As governments and non-profit organisations promote the adoption of vitamin A cassava, the potential to combat malnutrition on a broader scale becomes evident. The positive impact on public health is far-reaching, making strides toward a healthier and more nourished population. Asked if the vitamin A cassava has a special planting procedure; Ukaeke responded that, it takes normal procedure of planting the regular cassava varieties. “A fully mature yellow cassava is around one year after planting, but one can start harvesting after seven months. Vitamin A cassava does not like sun after harvesting. It is advisable to always put it under a shade. Even during fermentation, let it ferment under the shade because the sun might affect the vitamin A content and render it non-nutritional as it should.
On acceptance of the yellow cassava, the experienced farmer recounted how that in the first year he started out, and harvested for sale, he recorded a lot of wastage as the buyers were raising eyebrows at the colour, and its suitability for fufu and garri. “It’s a Yoruba community that likes white garri a lot. If it were Igbos, maybe they would have appreciated it better because they won’t have to be adding red oil to their fermented and dry cassava again”, he continued, “… but one thing that encouraged me is that, I kept hearing from IITA and doctors that the garri is very good, and better than the other normal white one because it aids vision. It was early last year that I was asked to package some and put it on a platform that I started having good demands after about six years that I started planting vitamin A cassava. Some other people helped advertised for me and really helped me a lot and now, I am popular for it in my community”, he concluded.