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Crops bio fortification to reduce malnutrition, says minister

By Andrew Ssenyonga

Added 19th July 2019 08:25 PM

Minister Kyebazanga on Wednesday at Uganda Media Centre revealed that government has come up with the National Bio-fortification Technical working group to kick start the campaign to promote the production and consumption of biofortified crops varieties.

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State Minister for Agriculture Christopher Kibanzanga addressing Journalists about Food and Nutrition during press conference at Uganda Media Centre on July 17, 2019.photo by Mary Kansiime

Minister Kyebazanga on Wednesday at Uganda Media Centre revealed that government has come up with the National Bio-fortification Technical working group to kick start the campaign to promote the production and consumption of biofortified crops varieties.

NUTRITION

KAMPALA - Nearly one in four individuals, suffer from vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, resulting in mental impairment, poor health, low productivity, and even death, according to state minister for agriculture Christopher Kyebazanga.

Kyebazanga noted that the 2019/20 budget speech called on government ministries and agencies to scale up coordinated actions and improve the nutrition situation in the country.

The budget speech singled out malnutrition and poor lifestyles including micronutrient deficiencies as one of the three key development challenges affecting social-economic development in Uganda.

The others include high unemployment rates and income disparities between the poor and the rich.

Minister Kyebazanga on Wednesday at Uganda Media Centre revealed that government has come up with the National Bio-fortification Technical working group to kick start the campaign to promote the production and consumption of biofortified crops varieties.

“There is robust evidence that consumption of these traditionally cooked biofortified food crops improves nutritional status. The food crops are rich in nutrients such as Zinc, Iron and Pro-Vitamin A,” Kyebazanga said.

Fact file

Biofortification is a process of increasing the density of vitamins and minerals in a crop through plant breeding, transgenic techniques, or agronomic practices.

 Biofortified staple crops, when consumed regularly, will generate measurable improvements in human health and nutrition.

The minister explained that feeding a child on only one type of food leads to malnutrition because it will deny the body of other essential nutrients.

“Nutritional deficiencies increase pressure on the national health system through increased risk of illnesses, while compromising the growth, development, and productivity of the nation in the long term,” he clarified.

According to the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS), 29% of children under 5 are stunted.

 Particularly worrying, Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in 2017 revealed that the prevalence of anemia among children under 5 years had increased from 49% in 2011 to 53% in 2016.

Similarly, UBOS, 2017 report presented an increase in the prevalence of anemia among women of reproductive age (15-49 years) from 24% to 32% in the same period.

Kyebazanga stressed that the effects of micronutrient deficiency include mental impairment, brain damage, lowered immunity, low work output, impaired vision, poor speech, poor birth outcomes, physical disabilities, and death.

Goretti Ssemakula, the principal research officer at  National Crops Resources Research Institute (NACRRI) said biofortified seeds including vitamin A enriched maize seeds, and iron and zinc enriched bean are widely available across the country.

“With government, Harvest Plus- Uganda and USAID support over 127 000 households will have the opportunity to improve the health of their children,” she said.

She added that fortification will also reduce the foreign currency the government spends on food supplements annually.

Harvest Plus- Uganda country manager Sylvia Magezi announced that biofortified nutritious food crops have already reached more than one million farmers countrywide.

“The developed new varieties of these foods are not only high yielding, but also more nutritious: they contain higher amounts of vitamin A, zinc, and iron that are essential to good health,” she explained.

She disclosed that currently, the fortified crops include oranges, sweet potatoes, cassava, bananas, and beans.

The Ministry of Agriculture will on Thursday officially launched the National Bio-fortification Technical Working Group at the Source of Nile Agricultural Show in Jinja.

Among others, the group will give technical support and advice on enhancing the development and production of biofortified crops, promote access and consumption, develop policies and strategies and also develop food bio-fortification management information system.

The group will comprise officials from the ministries of education, health, trade, local government, and agriculture. Others will be development partners, farmers’ federations and local investors among others.

 

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