Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Doctor Agnes Mahomva has urged the nation to embrace orange maize as the country steps up efforts to fight malnutrition.
Addressing participants at the Livelihood and Food Security Programme workshop in the capital recently, Dr Mahomva said malnutrition continues to to be a major public health and socio-economic problem in Zimbabwe affecting mostly children under the age of five, hence orange maize, which contains a high amount of nutritious Vitamin A could be the answer to some of the problems.
“Given the micronutrient malnutrition in Zimbabwe where deficiencies of vitamin A and Iron affect at least a fifth of the population of women and children and the consequences on the growth and development of the nation and the risks of new-born, infant and under five mortality are immense,” said Dr Mahomva.
According to the Livelihood and Food Security Programme, biofortification is the process of conventionally breeding food crops that are rich in micronutrients such as vitamin A, Zinc and Iron. These crops biofortify themselves by loading higher levels of minerals and vitamins in their seeds and roots while they are growing. When eaten, they can provide essential micronutrients to improve nutrition and public health.
Evidence shows that the poor and vulnerable populations of women, children and pregnant women living in rural areas are affected by the problem of micronutrients more but are also likely to be missed by public health measures to prevent and correct micronutrient deficiencies.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care supports the promotion of production and consumption of biofortified crop varieties, particularly orange maize, beans and orange -fleshed sweet potato.
In an interview with one of the farmers who successfully harvested orange maize this year, Joyce Jacob from Bindura said she is happy to have harvested five tonnes of orange maize and she is even seeing improvements health wise.
“Orange maize has vitamin A and Carotine hence l am guaranteed of a good eyesight and good skin at my age. Its also giving me money since more people are buying from me including companies that want to try the biofortification product,” said Jacob.
White garment churches are also participating more in farming orange maize and Iron beans since most of them avoid going to hospitals, they prefer getting their nutrient value direct from the biofortified crops.
Food companies see the saving with Zimbabwe manufacturer, Cairns Foods, confirming it’s taking steps to include biofortified maize in its cereals and biofortified beans in its canned products.
It is estimated that between one third and half of all Zimbabwean children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which weakens their vision and immune systems, retards their growth, makes them more vulnerable to various diseases, and reduces their quality of life.
In all, night blindness and other health problems caused by vitamin A deficiency affect more than five million children and nearly 10 million pregnant women, according to the World Health Organization.