Beans lead the poll for most consumed bio-fortified food Sugar beans

Edgar Vhera Agriculture Specialist Writer

IRON-RICH beans (NUA45) are currently the most consumed bio-fortified crop in the country, a recent report by the 2023 Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee (ZimLAC), formerly Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC), has revealed.

The ZimLAC report underlined that among the proportion of households that consumed biofortified crops, seven percent was on iron rich NUA45 bean followed by orange fleshed sweet potato on six.

Orange (Vitamin A) maize and other biofortified foods came third with a consumption of five percent each.

The ZimLAC report indicated that eating of biofortified foods was prevalent in Mashonaland East province, followed by Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces in that order.

All other provinces are consuming bio-fortified foods but on a small-scale.

Recently, the country weaned itself from the “vulnerability” class in the livelihoods assessment exercise following its achievement of food security and stabilisation of the economy under the Second Republic.

In an African Union report 2020 “Upscaling Bio-fortification in Africa: A Roadmap” bio-fortification was defined as the process of breeding food crops that are rich in bio-available micro-nutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron.

“These crops are bio-fortified by loading higher levels of minerals and vitamins in their seeds and roots during growth. Through bio-fortification, scientists can provide farmers with crop varieties that provide essential micro-nutrients and can naturally reduce anaemia, cognitive impairment, disease, and other malnutrition-related health problems that affect billions of people,” said the report.

The country’s micro-nutrient survey of 2012 showed the burden of vitamin A, iron and zinc deficiencies as 72 and 61 percent of children under five and women of child bearing age (WCBA) were iron deficient respectively. It also showed that 19 and 23 percent of under-fives and WCBA were vitamin A deficient correspondingly.

Micro-nutrient deficiency is the lack of minerals such as vitamin A, iron and zinc due to lack of dietary diversity which results in stunted growth, impaired learning in children and maternal deaths.

In 2017, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care made efforts to address the problem of micro-nutrient deficiency through the fortification of basic commodities such as sugar, wheat flour, maize-meal and cooking oil. While these fortified products are readily available for the urban population on supermarkets shelves, the story is different for rural communities who often grow their food. As a result, fortified foods do not find their way to their tables resulting in the bulk of rural communities suffering from micro-nutrient deficiencies.

To address this gap, Government and development partners collaborated and launched the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme (SIRP) in 2017 with the aim of mitigating the negative effects of climate change and malnutrition through adoption of bio-fortification.

SIRP is a seven-year programme funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) and the Government of Zimbabwe, which contributes to the resilience of smallholder farming communities in Zimbabwe’s four provinces of Manicaland, Midlands, Masvingo and Matabeleland South.

SIRP nutrition specialist Mrs Fungai Kutyauripo said to fight the burden of micro-nutrient malnutrition, SIRP took advantage of the rehabilitated 26 irrigation schemes to promote production of orange maize and orange fleshed sweet potato, which are rich in vitamin A as well as iron and zinc rich NUA 45 beans coupled with supporting activities for development of the value chains.

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