By Raymond Benson, KMCO Abia LIFE-ND.
All humans need staple foods for growth and survival. These foods are expected to be routinely eaten in good quantity for supply of nutrients and energy. They are common basis of every day diet in a place, cheap and affordable but often neglected. The more we cherish munching these foods, the more we acquire the required nutrients and energy for our daily activities.
These staples range from root vegetables such as, potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, dried legumes, cheese, etc.
The cereal family comprises, rice, wheat, millet, maize, beans amongst others.
The cereals provide enough amount of carbohydrates for daily energy; proteins and magnesium to fight anti‐bodies, infections and creation of new cells; fibers that lower cholesterol and sugar levels; phospherous for healing of wounds and anti inflammation and boosts immune and reproductive health; zinc for strong immune system; and supply of vitamins B, E, and other body minerals that sustain the body systems.
In executing the LIFE-ND project in the Niger Delta, the project identified the “hidden hunger” and the prevailing nutritional imbalance in the region.
Asked what “hidden hunger” means, the Abia State LIFE-ND Coordinator, Uchenna Rowland Onyeizu,Ph.D said,
“Hidden hunger is a situation where people might think they’re feeding well, but they’re not because of the lack of balanced diet, especially, essential vitamins and minerals for growth and development which may cause stunted growth, goiter, malnutrition, among other sicknesses.”
To permanently prevent these prevailing scourge, the project has, apart from the climate change campaign, introduced two bio-fortified crops: Cassava 419 and Orange‐fleshed Sweet potato varieties, both, rich in vitamin A that protects the eyes and early aging.
On December 14, 2021, the Abia LIFE-ND, State Agribusiness Promotion Officer, Pastor Chukwuekezie Godwin and the Nutrition Mainstreaming Consultant, Mrs. Chioma Obasi, took some selected incubatees of the project to Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, to educate them on methods and importance of farming in these crops.
Mr. Augustine Okafor, an expert in cassava farming in the University, was thorough in educating the incubatees,
“Am educating you on what’s involved in Bio- fortified cassava production, the pro vitamin A type; starting from land preparation, planting and harvesting; how to identify the various types and their various levels of carotene. For instance, we’ve six varieties, UMUCASS 36, 37, 38, 44, 45 and 46. The prefix “UMU” indicates that the cassava variety originated from National Root and Crops Research Umudike, Umuahia, Abia State.
“UMUCASS 44, 45 and 46 are improved variety with high carotene content, high yield and dry matter, and cannot be compared to UMUCASS 36, 37 and 38 which have low carotene and less dry matter.
“419 variety,(better called four, nineteen), is a yellow root; has better nutrition content. That’s why we’re educating you on the best. For consumption, it’s better for your children and families because of the Vitamin A content and it’s most sought for in industrial circles.”
He further explained that dry matter is the measurement of a completed production of root processing while still maintaining its carbohydrate levels, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. He said that beta carotene is a compound that gives actual orange and red colouring to vegetables and fruits while still enhancing its Vitamin A content.
The team extended their practical learning to orange-freshed potato farm at Munis Poultry Farm, Ubakala, Umuahia South, where the Agribusiness Officer, Pastor Chukwuekezie and the nutrition expert, Mrs. Obasi educated the incubatees on the process of planting, harvesting and the nutritional benefits of the orange‐ freshed potato.
According to Chukwuekezie,
“You don’t need to labour too much. Make a ridge or mound, plant at 20-30 cm distance. Put two nodes of cuttings into the soil, letting a node out the soil for aeration.
“There’s no place you cannot do it within your homestead. After four months you get food for your family. You can intercrop it with 419 cassava and maize. They enjoy sunshine. Please stop enriching others,” he pleaded.
One of the female incubatee participants, Miss Chidera Joyce Ojimadu of Imeafor Oil Palm Mill, Umuokorodo, Umuahia South LGA, succinctly summarised the the benefits of the bio‐crops,
“We learnt there’re six different varieties of cassava, their identification and business worth; that the 419 cassava and orange‐fleshed potatoes contain vitamin A which is actually good for our health. The potatoe can be washed and eaten raw without peeling. It can be grated and used for salad without being boiled or fried. The taste is really nice. I’ve learnt a lot. I thank LIFE-ND,” she said.
Another participant, Igwe Lawrence, an incubatee of Agege Farm, Bende LGA, thanked LIFE-ND for the education.
Owing to importance of these nutritional crops, the Abia State LIFE-ND is poised to take the message to the rural communities.