Malnutrition is a problem in Nigeria, and many international organizations and projects have tried to turn back the tide of malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies in the country. One important vitamin that many people are lacking is vitamin A, a deficiency that can result in blindness, increase serious illnesses from common childhood infections, and increase maternal mortality and other poor pregnancy outcomes.
Vitamin A is found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, and in yellow or orange vegetables like carrots, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, and pumpkins. In addition, cassava and maize have been biofortified with vitamin A.
Fidelia Agara is a farmer and businesswoman in Benue State. She says that her vision has improved since she started eating orange-fleshed sweet potato. She adds that the vegetable is versatile and she cooks it for her family often. She talks about her kids: “They eat it a lot—boiled, fried, as juice—it tastes like carrots; I even make bread [from it].” She says that her children are now healthier, livelier, and more robust.
Orange-fleshed sweet potato can be made into bread or cake by mixing mashed sweet potato, maize flour, banana, salt, sugar, warm water or milk, and soda. You mash the banana and mix it with two parts maize flour and one part mashed sweet potato. Add warm water or milk and soda to make a light porridge. Spread margarine or oil on the cooking pot and add the porridge mixture. Place charcoal on top and bottom of the cooking pot to bake until cooked.
Mrs. Agara says that a colleague mixes orange-fleshed sweet potato with milk to create a drink to cope with the pain of a stomach ulcer. A juice can also be prepared from mashed sweet potato with water, sugar, and other juices—or by mixing tender sweet potato leaves, water, sugar, and juices. Orange-fleshed sweet potato can be quickly made into flour, porridge, chips, bread, and even baby food.
Yusuf Adamu has been farming in Kaduna State for more than 20 years. He grows rice, maize, and soybeans, and has been growing and using biofortified crops for the past two years. He says, “There are definite health benefits. Our pregnant women that consume them give birth to healthier babies, and to me, it seems like it reduces miscarriages.”
Some people are concerned that the new varieties are genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs, that could have negative health consequences. But in fact, the vitamin-A-rich varieties are biofortified, meaning that plant breeders used standard cross-breeding techniques to develop the vitamin-rich varieties. Other people believe the new varieties are meant to combat specific diseases. In Benue, some community members believe that the orange-flesh sweet potato is meant for diabetics.
Other farmers and community members are reluctant to try new varieties simply because they are comfortable eating what they are used to. Benedict Ikam is a seed seller in Benue State who says, “Some [people], they just want anything yellow. If it’s yellow, that is what they want to go for. Others, anything white, they want to go for it. They don’t really care about the vitamins.”
People who are used to a certain taste and texture may be reluctant to adopt new varieties, and this can make it difficult for farmers to sell the new varieties they grow. Ms. Agara says, “Some farmers planted the vitamin A cassava but there was no market for it. It has less starch so it was not suitable for akpu [boiled and pounded cassava).” So the farmers almost entirely stopped growing it.
To encourage more people to eat the new varieties, a project in Nigeria is demonstrating how they can be prepared, and addressing myths and misconceptions about their benefits. The project also holds cooking competitions and demonstrations and provides nutritional education in communities. Adejoke Adwusi is a nutritionist and project manager for Workforce Nutrition. Ms. Adwusi says, “We think local. Behaviour change to eating better starts from the households.”
It’s also important to train farmers to advocate for these crop varieties. Mrs. Agara says: “I train other farmers using what I’ve learned, and try to empower them to always have markets for their crops.“
This resource was undertaken with the financial support of The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), which is implementing the Strengthening Nutrition in Priority Staples Project (SNIPS) in Nigeria in partnership with GIC and the Green Innovation Centre for the Agricultural and Food Sector in Nigeria sponsored by the German Government through the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).