The Country Director of HarvestPlus Nigeria, Dr. Paul Ilona says the NGO was working to meet the nutritional needs of about 100 million Nigerians by the year 2030.
In an interview on Thursday in Lagos, he said that the food culture in Nigeria had made it challenging for people to stay healthy because the diets consisted mainly of carbohydrates, thereby lacking in other essential nutrients the body requires.
“We’re looking at 100 million Nigerians consuming more nutritious staple foods by the year 2030. We’re not looking at consumers in the urban areas but more of those in the rural areas who may not have access to additional nutrients,” he said.
Ilona explained that when foods lacked the right amount of nutrients the body require; then a person could eat and feel full but still suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
He noted that the quality of food eaten was more beneficial to the body than the quantity consumed to prevent what he referred to as ‘hidden hunger’.
“When somebody has eaten enough food but the food does not have Vitamin A to supply the eyes or enough iron for the blood, then that person has eaten but is still hungry,” he said.
Ilona stressed the need for people to imbibe the culture of healthy eating, saying hidden hunger cuts across all strata of the society.
According to him, about 13 per cent of children from affluent homes suffer from the condition also.
“If you go to a village, you find children with big stomach but when you look at them, you’ll see that they’re not healthy. Also, Several studies carried out recently shows that up to 13 per cent of children in rich homes suffer from malnutrition.
“This is the era of junk. They eat all sorts for convenience, not for nutrition. Foods should address the nutritional needs of the different parts of our bodies. If your food does not guarantee you the essential nutrients your body needs, then you’re just eating chaff,” he said.
He explained that his organisation’s objective was focused on ensuring that the commonly consumed staple foods act as the primary channel to deliver essential micronutrients to Nigerians.
He said that HarvestPlus planned achieving this goal through its biofortication project.
Biofortication is the process of naturally enriching staple crops including cassava, maize and rice with certain nutrients like zinc, iron, Vitamin A and iodine before the seeds are planted.
The foods already biofortified in Nigeria includes Vitamin A Cassava, Vitamin A Maize, Iron Beans, Iron Cell Millets and Orange Sweet Potatoes.
Ilona said: “They are not genetically modified crops, these are natural and done at the breeding stage.
“When farmers plant the cassava, they get yellow tubers and yellow Garri direct. You don’t add anything.
He explained that biofortication was a cheap and reliable method of ensuring that foods were enriched with essential nutrients for the body.
“If a child takes only 150 grams of Orange Sweet Potatoes a day, the child has met the daily need of Vitamin A. We can make these nutrients available through the foods we eat and that’s a lot more sustainable for us overtime,” Ilona said.
He urged mothers to look out for biofortified foods when planning meals for their families, noting that mothers need more education to enable them know which foods to combine to make healthier meals.
HarvestPlus’ biofortication project is supported by international organisations, including the UK Government, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The European Commission and donors to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) programme on agriculture for health and nutrition are also supporting the project.