By Chidinma Agu
The Country Manager of HarvestPlus Nigeria, Mr Paul Ilona, on Tuesday said that bio-fortified crops were natural and different from genetically modified (GM) crops, which were basically synthetic.
Ilona, who said this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, said that the crops were also different from foods that were fortified with vitamins and other trace minerals.
He said that for instance, scientists had identified some genes in cassava and maize that were beneficial to human’s health.“There are no health concerns with bio-fortified crops like it is the case with GM crops.
“Albinos’ have been identified in tuber crops like cassava and grains like maize.
“Some of the tubers and grains are carriers of Vitamin A and other trace minerals.
“So, whatever is being done in the crop bio-fortification process is to identify the carriers of micro-nutrients and naturally accentuate the genes.“That is why straight from harvesting, we have grey, white and orange coloured cassava varieties which you fry and get the exact colour without adding oil or any colouring material,’’ he said.
Ilona said that there were over 3,000 varieties of cassava in the system with broad genetic forms.
He said that some of the varieties had high starch and increased level of nutrients in them.
Ilona said that HarvestPlus was introducing Vitamin A cassava stems to smallholder farmers and empowering them with machines to facilitate proper crop processing after harvest.
He said that the idea of crop bio-fortification was to curb malnutrition by fortifying basic staple foods with the necessary nutrients that could be obtained from the food which the people consumed.
Ilona, however, urged the federal and state government to earmark funds for crop bio-fortification projects.
He said that HarvestPlus was working with Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, to train farm managers, as part of efforts to attract investors in the agriculture sector.
He said that high-quality custard and snacks as well as grey, orange, dark coloured cassava were currently produced from the bio-fortified Vitamin A cassava.
Ilona said that HarvestPlus had also introduced automated cassava planters, automated cassava harvesters and mobile flash driers to dry cassava tubers when processed.
Ilona said that the agency invested heavily in women, while organising them into community organisations as a means of fighting malnutrition using bio-fortified crops.