Phillipa Mukome-Chinhoi Correspondent
The Government’s target is uplifting livelihoods of the generality of the populace by 2030.
Through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Government launched a national food fortification strategy in November 2015, whose goal is to prevent and control micro-nutrient deficiency disorders among the citizenry of Zimbabwe.
The strategy is to promote dietary diversification through production and consumption of a range of crops and livestock that enrich people’s diets. Inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals can cause micro-nutrient deficiencies, also known as hidden hunger.
Millions of people in Zimbabwe do not get enough essential vitamins and minerals in their daily diets. As a result, they are vulnerable to a wide range of malnutrition-related problems, which include impaired vision and blindness as well as impaired physical and cognitive development.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), bio-fortification is the process of conventionally growing food crops that are rich in micro-nutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and iron.
These crops bio-fortify themselves by loading higher levels of minerals and vitamins in their seeds and roots while they are growing.
Ambassador Mary Mubi from the Office of the President and Cabinet says: “Zimbabwe has a history of bio-fortifying foods. Remember when there was a high prevalence of goitre, the Government was quick to start iodising salt and the problem disappeared.”
The Government has been addressing issues of hidden hunger for some time now. Imagine having a stunted population of 2,6 million! Statistics show that one in every five children is shorter than peers of their age, because of stunted growth.
That is why the Government initiated the bio-fortification of foods with the aim of developing the nation through human improvement. With the support of ministries of Health and Child Care, Primary and Secondary Education and Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement as well as the private sector, Government is raising awareness on hidden hunger.
“We need to promote our indigenous crops. People are resorting to diets which are not from this country. We need to educate people about these indigenous crops.
“It is also about dietary diversity, and not all about sadza, but a variety of foods that will allow the body to develop properly,” revealed Ambassador Mubi.
The world over bio-fortification is getting more attention. This has motivated Government to also intervene and tackle malnutrition and its effects sustainably.
The introduction of orange maize, iron beans, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, iron peanuts, and cowpeas has been of great benefit, especially in rural areas.
Low-income farming families’ diets in developing countries often lack variety, with fruits and foods high in proteins being seldom consumed.
This less visible type of malnutrition can lead to a devastating array of problems, including night blindness, stunted development in both brain and body, and physical weakness from anaemia, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and even death.
Benefits of bio-fortified crops
(a) The body is able to make blood when it gets enough iron.
(b) Iron is essential for physical health, mental well-being and brain development in children.
(c) Iron is especially important for pregnant women and infants.
(d) Insufficient dietary iron can result in fatigue, tiredness, lethargy, more frequent infections, impaired learning and may increase the risk of women dying during childbirth.
(e) Zinc is important for the immune system, wound healing, reproductive health and appetite.
(f) Insufficient dietary zinc causes stunting in children, low appetite and poor immune system.
(g) Vitamin A keeps body organs like the gut, heart, lungs and kidney healthy.
(h) Improved growth and development in children.
According to Mrs Annabel Gerry, head of the department for International Development (DfiD) in Zimbabwe, bio-fortified foods are totally different from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
It is the role of the media, Government and the private sector to increase awareness on bio-fortified foods. The misconception that GMOs are just like bio-fortified foods must be erased from our people’s minds.
Bio-fortified seeds are developed by selecting naturally occurring varieties that are high in vitamin A, iron or zinc, and cross-pollinate them with more commonly grown varieties. An example is orange maize.
Vitamin A orange maize is different from the yellow maize which is imported. Government’s efforts to grow bio-fortified crops should be supported. Therefore, more seed companies should be encouraged to invest in bio-fortified crops.
Over 300 000 farming households in Zimbabwe have so far produced and consumed bio-fortified crops.