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NUI Galway develops vitamin-rich crop to combat malnutrition in Africa

Up to 500,000 children in developing countries go blind each year due to vitamin A deficiency.

PhD student Girum Azmach inspecting IITA high vitamin A maize lines in field trials in Nigeria.
PhD student Girum Azmach inspecting IITA high vitamin A maize lines in field trials in Nigeria.
Image: NUI Galway

RESEARCHERS AT NUI Galway have been working to develop a Vitamin A-rich crop to help combat malnutrition in Africa and they have found a way to do it.

In conjunction with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) has been researching the development of more nutritious and higher yielding crops for smallholder farmers in Africa since 2009.

Vitamin A deficiency in the diets of the poor is currently a global health problem affecting millions of people in Africa and other regions of the world. This deficiency retards growth, increases risk of disease, and can cause reproductive disorders.

Researchers have been working to develop and disseminate new varieties of staple crops like maize, sweet potato and beans, that contain higher levels of essential micro nutrients.

Up to 500,000 children in developing countries go blind each year due to vitamin A deficiency, with over half of these children dying within a year of becoming blind. In Malawi alone, 73 per cent of children currently do not have enough Vitamin A in their diets.

The high prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency amongst mothers and children (particularly during the first 1000 days of life) perpetuates cycles of poverty.

image

Developing orange high vitA maize: IITA maize lines with differing levels of provitamin A (NUI Galway).

Working within IITA’s maize breeding program, Girum Azmach, a PhD student and maize breeder, has identified combinations of naturally-occurring genes in maize lines that result in major increases of the level of Vitamin A in the types of maize varieties that are grown by farmers and consumed by poorer households in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This means that breeding programs in Africa can grow crops that will reduce the levels of Vitamin A deficiency amongst the poor in Sub Saharan Africa.

IITA, in collaboration with national partners in Nigeria, has released the first generation of two pro-vitamin A rich hybrids and two open-pollinated varieties. An open-pollinated variety with intermediate level of pro-vitamin A was also released in Ghana in 2012. Seeds of the released pro-vitamin A rich open-pollinated maize varieties have been sent to Liberia, Mali, and Sierra Leone for testing, multiplication and deployment.

This research was published today in international scientific journal BMC Plant Biology.

Read: Irish charity tackling African hunger – with potatoes>

Read: Threat of ‘deadly outbreak of disease’ in camps for children fleeing CAR violence>

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