Uganda adopts nutrient-rich crops but with challenges

Wednesday April 9 2014

By William Odinga Balikuddembe

Nutritious crop varieties developed in Uganda, Rwanda and other African countries are ready for multiplication for distribution to farmers, an international conference has heard.

But Uganda’s agriculture ministers expressed fears that Ugandan farmers may take long to benefit from these crops because of a number of technical-related issues .

Speaking at the sidelines of the Second Global Conference on Biofortification, which was held from March 31 to April 2 in Kigali, Rwanda, Dr Zurubabel Nyiira, the State Minister for Agriculture said: “Uganda has the framework to scale up production of biofrotified crops. The problem with Uganda is especially in the public service. Our technical people don’t seem to have the will to support the transformation of the smallholder farmer.”

Increase value
The three-day conference, convened by HarvestPlus and Rwanda, under the theme, Getting nutritious foods to people, deliberated how to get iron-, zinc- and Vitamin A-rich crops to more people. Some parts of Uganda have already adopted Vitamin A-rich orange fleshed sweet potatoes.

Vitamin A- and mineral-rich crops, developed through a process known as biofortification, which means breeding crops to increase their nutritional value, are intended to improve nutrition and hence public health.

They are being produced to reduce anaemia, cognitive impairment, visual impairment and other malnutrition-related health problems, according to a statement from HarvestPlus.

“Nutrient-rich crops are most beneficial to groups that are that are vulnerable to deficiencies in micro-nutrients, such as vitamin A, iron or zinc, including children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those whose diets are limited by low income or lack of access to diverse, healthy foods,” the statement adds.

Widely as possible
Dr Howarth Bouis, director, HarvestPlus, said the Rwanda conference was intended to discuss ways of delivering the biofortified crops as widely as possible.

“Biofortified nutrition-rich staple food crops are already available for scaling up. We eat to avoid hunger but fundamentally we need to be healthy,” he told the conference, which attracted more than 350 participants from around the world.

Rwanda was chosen to host the conference for its success in growing iron-rich beans.

“These beans are high yielding, disease resistant and provide up to 45 per cent of daily iron needs, which is 14 per cent more than the traditional varieties. Over 700,000 families are growing the beans,” said Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Pierre Habumuremyi, during the conference.