By NGIBO KAMPAKASA
The Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) says it has embarked on addressing issues of vitamin A deficiency in the
ZARI Plant Breeder Martin Chiyona, says the institute aims at alleviating vitamin A deficiency by incorporating vitamin A in food such as margarine, sugar and mealie meal as well as devise interventions every year through the child health week to supply children with vitamin A.
Dr Chiyona says that major food crops do not have vitamin A, as such the institute is aiming at incorporating vitamin A into major crops such as maize, sweet potatoes and cassava.
He further said that there is a variety of maize and sweet potatoes that the institution has already released on the market to alleviate vitamin A deficiency.
Dr Chiyona said that taking a root of 100-120 grammes of sweet potatoes would be enough to meet the vitamin A requirements of an individual for a day.
He added that the institution has observed that many farmers grow sweet potatoes and most consumers have access to sweet potatoes and ZARI believes that the vitamin A deficiency will start subsidizing.
Dr Chiyona explained that the levels of vitamin A in sweet potatoes is known by the flesh colour adding that the deeper the flesh colour, the higher the vitamin A.
He disclosed that the institution has a crossing block were they make crosses of different varieties of plants which have characteristics that the institution is looking for which are then combined and seeds are also generated from these crossing blocks.
“Once seeds are obtained, seedlings are raised and each seed is a potential new variety which is planted in the field and the ones which have the characteristics that the institution is looking for are selected and transferred into bigger pots,” said Mr Chiyona.
He said that since each plant is a potential variety, there will not be enough seed hence the institution goes through a process called Rapid Multiplication from one plant, so many plants can be generated to plant hectares for farmers to access.
“When we get these characteristics, we also use them to make different products such as flour, puree and chips which can be used in different applications as flour can be used in bakery products, make porridge for children, biscuits, fritters and pies by using sweet potato puree,” said Mr Chiyona.
He said that ZARI is targeting small-scale farmers and resource poor farmers who cannot afford expensive foods.
Apart from sweet potatoes, the institution also focuses on maize, golden rice and cassava from were vitamin A adding that beans is a good source of nutrients like iron and zinc.
ZARI is partnering with other institutions in developing these crops such as The International Potato Centre for sweet potatoes, HarvestPlus for maize and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for Cassava.
Mr Chiyona has since advised people to practice crop diversification and not just depend on maize as crop diversification can help alleviate poverty in the country.
Meanwhile, Food and Nutrition Officer Brenda Maliti, says that the Ministry of Agriculture (MAL) under ZARI is promoting seeds that are early maturing, have high nutrition value and drought tolerant.
She further said that there are so many illnesses that are coming up due to lack of vitamin A.
Ms Maliti also said that vitamin A has many benefits as it is good for eye sight, epithelial cells as the skin becomes smooth, it is also good for school going children as they become alert and attentive in class.
She added that vitamin A also boosts the immune system, and is good for bone metabolism as well as for reproduction from inception.-NAIS