Posts Tagged ‘iron’

May21

2007-2008 Food Crisis: Causes, Responses, and Lessons Learned

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By Jameson Spivack

The world food crisis of 2007-2008 caused a substantial rise in the cost of food, especially staple foods such as rice, wheat, and corn. This rise in price had a devastating effect on hungry people in the developing world.

When food prices rise, poor people in developing countries are hurt the most. (Image source: IFPRI)

Between 2005 and 2011, world prices for rice, wheat, and maize rose 102 percent, 115 percent, and 204 percent, respectively, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With price increases, people with less disposable income must spend a larger percentage of their earnings on essential staple grains, and less on other food and non-food items. This can have a significant impact on nutrition.

In seven Latin American countries, this increase in price led to an average 8 percent decrease in the amount of calories consumed. Before the crisis, 35 percent of households in Ecuador received an adequate amount of calories; afterwards, only 22 percent were receiving healthy levels of calories. In developing countries, if prices rise 50 percent across the board, and there is no rise in income, iron intake will decrease by 30 percent, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In the Philippines, this 30 percent decrease in iron consumption would mean that only 5 percent of women have adequate levels of iron.

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Jul06

Meeting Nutritional Needs with ‘Biofortified’ Staple Crops

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By Yassir Islam

Whether a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, millions of poor people around the world eat large amounts of staple foods day in and day out. Now, a new technology promises to make such foods more nutritious.

HarvestPlus expects that millions of Rwandans will be eating these beans within the decade. This should greatly reduce the iron deficiency that leaves at least half of Rwanda’s preschoolers physically and mentally impaired. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

While staple foods provide calories, they simply do not provide enough micronutrients such as iron, zinc, or vitamin A that are required for good health. People who do not get enough micronutrients suffer from a ‘hidden hunger,’ often with serious consequences.

Without zinc, an eight-year-old girl may have the stature of a five year old. A young boy not getting enough vitamin A—an amount easily provided daily by a small, orange sweet potato—could go blind, permanently. It is these precious nutrients, needed in only minute amounts, that can make—or break—a young person’s life and haunt them through adulthood.

The ideal solution is, of course, a more diverse diet, but that is beyond the reach of millions of poor people often living in remote rural areas. This is where more nutritious staple foods can help; scientists are breeding new varieties of staple food crops that are richer in micronutrients through a process called biofortification. They scour seed banks to find seeds that contain the desired nutrients and then breed these into popular varieties using conventional methods.

The first crop out of the door was sweet potato. White or yellow sweet potato is traditionally eaten in Africa. Working with partners, HarvestPlus, a global agricultural research program, successfully released in Uganda and Mozambique an orange sweet potato that is far richer in vitamin A. Children and women, who are most susceptible to vitamin A deficiency, are eating substantially more of this locally grown orange sweet potato.

“Me and my family are experiencing better health with fewer visits to the local clinic since we incorporated the orange sweet potato into our diet,” a local farmer in Uganda recently attested to visiting HarvestPlus staff.

HarvestPlus and its partners will soon release two other nutritious staple foods in Africa: beans with more iron and  a vitamin A-rich maize.

Rwanda, a country of lush rolling hills, claims bean as its staple. “Beans are the bread of Rwanda,” says Jean D’Amour Manirere, HarvestPlus Country Manager for beans. Manirere shepherds new iron-rich bean varieties through field trials and ultimately to farmers and consumers. HarvestPlus is conducting a feeding trial in Rwanda to demonstrate that these new beans do reduce iron deficiency. With this seal of approval, local partners will be able to get these beans out to smallholder farming communities throughout Rwanda. Farmers will be able to save and share seed to grow, year after year.

HarvestPlus expects that millions of Rwandans will be eating these beans within the decade. This should greatly reduce the iron deficiency that leaves at least half of Rwanda’s preschoolers physically and mentally impaired. Once beans have taken root in Rwanda, neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and several other African countries where people regularly eat beans will also benefit.

In Zambia, a different crop that has become synonymous with African diets is about to become more nutritious: maize. These new varieties are a distinct orange color due to their vitamin A content. “First, we want to confirm that these varieties perform well in the field,” says Eliab Simpungwe, HarvestPlus Country Manager for maize. “We are already working with two seed companies to test this maize in the field.” HarvestPlus partners will begin by first releasing these varieties in provinces where rural households grow maize and where the incidence of vitamin A deficiency among women and children is high.

How do people react to these new ‘orange’ crops? We have found that when you explain their nutritional benefits, people are willing to include these foods in their diet. A HarvestPlus study in Zambia found that there is no stigma attached to orange maize, so the color should not be an issue. Coupled with its more nutritious profile and good field performance, orange maize should easily carve out a niche in farmers’ fields—and the Zambian diet. Once proven in Zambia, orange maize will be adapted to numerous other countries not just in Africa where maize is a popular food.

Biofortification may ultimately prove to be most successful because it uses food crops that rural communities are already growing and eating to deliver better nutrition. It also has built-in sustainability. Once scientists have bred the high-nutrient into the crop, it stays there—nourishing many generations to come.

Learn more about HarvestPlus’ work in Rwanda and Zambia.

HarvestPlus is a Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It is based at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Yassir Islam is Senior Communications Specialist at HarvestPlus.

Jan11

A Different Kind of Livestock

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Caterpillars (seen here being sold by a street vendor in Uganda) are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Caterpillars (seen here being sold by a street vendor in Uganda) are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

I’ve had the opportunity to try some traditional—and tasty—local foods while I’ve been traveling in Africa, including amaranth, breadfruit, matooke (mashed banana), posho (maize flour), groundnut sauce, spider weed, sukuma wiki (a leafy green), and a whole lot of other vegetables and fruits with names that I can neither remember nor pronounce.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is found all over Africa and, in addition to being a food source, it is also considered a pest—grasshoppers. As I was walking through a market in Kampala, Uganda I noticed women “shelling” what I thought were beans, but upon closer inspection the baskets sitting between their legs were full of wriggling grasshoppers. As they sat, chatting with one another and the curious American, they were de-winging the insects so that they could be either sold “raw” or fried for customers.

Despite the yuck factor many of you reading this might have for eating insects, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, and other “bugs” can be a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, minerals,

and other nutrients. According to the results from a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization workshop in 2008, caterpillars are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron.

Collecting and selling insects can also be an important source of income, especially for women in Africa. And as climate change increases the prevalence of certain insects, they become an even more important source of food in the future.