Dr. Manfred B. Ewool, a Senior Research Scientist and Maize Breeder at the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR) Crops Research Institute (CRI), notes that since maize is a staple food in Ghana, enhancing it with Vitamin A is a long- term approach to minimise Vitamin ‘A’ Deficiency (VAD) in the country.
Vitamin ‘A’ deficiencies lead to serious health implications in humans, especially pregnant women and children, and can result in growth retardation, weak immune system and night-blindness.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest under-5 mortality rate in the world, with 1 child in 13 dying before his or her fifth birthday – 15 times higher than in high-income countries. More than half of under-5 child deaths are due to diseases that are preventable and treatable through simple, affordable interventions.
Recent data indicate that mortality rates are also increased among children with even mild vitamin A deficiency, and that in many areas enhanced vitamin A intake can reduce the risk of mortality from childhood infections by up to 54%.
It is estimated that the deaths of at least one million children would be prevented each year if their vitamin A status were improved. That is why the development of a newly introduced Pro-Vitamin ‘A’ orange maize variety into the Ghanaian market by the CSIR-CRI should be celebrated because of the high degree of under-five deaths in our part of the world.
Dr. Ewool said the CSIR-CRI, with support from HarvestPlus Challenge programme through the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture-Nigeria, is ensuring that farmers adopt the newly introduced orange maize varieties through education, awareness creation, workshops and field days for farmers and end-users in the country.
What’s even more gratifying is the fact that some schools in the municipalities and districts visited by CSIR- CRI have embraced the pro-vitamin ‘A’ orange maize into their School Feeding Programme.
This will ensure that our future leaders do not suffer any form of malnutrition, since it affects the children’s ‘grey matter’ and eventually their aptitude. What’s left is to scale up the production and create the needed awareness about its benefits.
This is because Ghanaians traditionally patronise white maize for their staple diet, and even find it hard to patronise yellow maize which is also rich in nutrients. Research indicates that 72 percent of children under five in Ghana suffer from vitamin A’ deficiency, and 17,200 people die annually from the disease.