Scientists meeting in Mombasa in a workshop organized by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and Harvestplus have called on agricultural researchers to focus more on food production rich in higher levels of vitamins and minerals instead of the current focus of increasing yields. They said though yields were important, the focus should be directed to
nutrition instead of just quantity.
Prof Ruth Oniang'o, a professor of Food Science and Nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology said the focus in Africa should shift from quantity to quality to ensure that every meal had the required macro-nutrients. She said food rich in macronutrients could save millions of Children facing childhood death in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Agricultural research has traditionally focused increasing crop yields, reducing environmental damage or improving incomes of farmers and neglected breeding crops with higher levels of vitamins and minerals," she said.
Prof Oniango told the delegates attending a two-day regional workshop on macro-nutrients interfacing agriculture and health at Whitesands Beach Hotel that by breeding crops with higher nutrition, food becomes a delivery system mechanism for much needed nutrients.
The nominated MP said Kenya was facing serious challenges from HIV/Aids pandemic, re-emergence of the five killer diseases, anemia among others. She said most of the diseases are food deficiency related saying research had shown that even common cold could be fatal once the victim suffering from the condition was weak and lacked vital food nutrients.
She asked parents to learn the basic nutrients composition of every meal to save children and their families from re-emerging diseases that threaten the very survival of the common man.
The food scientitist said that nearly 70 per cent of pre-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa are iron deficient- a main cause of anemia. She said Vitamin A deficiency was a leading cause of preventable blindness, while zinc deficiency contributed to stunted growth, increased rates and severity of infectious and pregnancy and child birth complications.
The best solution to micronutrients deficiency, she said was a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and meat. For the poor, however, such choices are simply not possible because they lack the money to purchase nutrients rich foods.
"Until now, the solution to micronutrients deficiency among the poor has focused on vitamins and minerals supplements, dietary diversity, and commercial food macronutrients, while these approaches have attained some success, they have not been able to reach all the need particularly people in rural areas," Prof Oniang'o said.
The Director of HarvestPLus, Mr. Howarth Bouis, said much of Africa's rural poor could only afford to feed a diet based mostly on staple crops such as maize, white-flashed sweet potato and beans, which are low in macronutrients particularly iron, zinc and vitamin A.As a result, he said more than a third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa suffered the debilitating effects of micronutrients, malnutrition, or diets deficient in essential Africa vitamins and minerals. He said diets poor in micronutrients cause illness, premature death and impaired mental development, particularly among women and children in developing countries.
Mr. Tola Atinmo from International Union of Nutritional Science told participants the relation between food deficiency and the HIV/Aids pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. He said eating food poor in nutritional value exposed people to high risks of diseases especially HIV/Aids as immune system was already low due to poor diet
By Ngumbao Kithi
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