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Research on improving nutrition through bio-fortified crops

Agriculture, News/feature, Africa, Ireland, 2013

Maize rich in vitamin A has been identified by an Irish Aid funded researcher working with NUI Galway and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of blindness, stunting, illness and death in children in Africa. This vitamin-rich maize has significant potential to reduce malnutrition in countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

PhD student and maize breeder Girum Azmach, in research funded by Irish Aid and undertaken with NUI Galway and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, has identified combinations of genes in maize plants tripling the level of vitamin A in varieties typically consumed by poorer African households.  

This is important work as Vitamin A deficiency can stunt growth, increase disease risk, and reproductive disorders, and causes up to 500,000 children in developing countries to go blind each year. Over half of these children die within a year of becoming blind. Vitamin A deficiency amongst mothers and children (particularly during the first 1000 days of life) perpetuates poverty. 

Maize is a crop which, though high in energy, lacks the required nutrients to promote healthy growth and development. Maize is widely consumed however, as part of a staple diet for over a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. For these reasons, research such as Azmach’s, could have such far-reaching implications. 

Vitamin A deficiency can stunt growth, increase disease risk, and reproductive disorders, and causes up to 500,000 children in developing countries to go blind each year

Staple crops with improved micro-nutrient profiles will contribute to both improving smallholder agriculture and help prevent maternal and child under-nutrition. NUI Galway and IITA are working on new varieties of staple crops such as maize, sweet potato, and beans which have more vitamin A, iron and zinc. They cooperate closely with Harvest Plus programme of the international agricultural research for development system CGIAR, and national agricultural research systems. 

Researcher Azmach has worked closely with Prof. Charles Spillane of NUI Galway and Dr. Abebe Menkir of IITA. It is hoped that his research will be a significant contribution to better development of vitamin A-biofortified tropical maize varieties adapted to growing conditions and consumer preferences in Africa. 

Read more aboutthe project here. http://maizebiofortificationafrica.org/     

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