Three pro-vitamin A cassava varieties released in December 2011 were launched recently by the Nigerian government. IITA, in partnership with the National Root Crops Research Institute, Nigeria, developed these varieties using traditional breeding methods in a HarvestPlus-funded project.
The varieties were released by the National Variety Release Committee of Nigeria as UMUCASS 36, UMUCASS 37, and UMUCASS 38; and are recognized as IITA genotypes TMS 01/1368, TMS 01/1412, and TMS 01/1371.
The project works with national partners and the private sector to ensure that the pro-vitamin A-rich varieties reach resource-poor farmers. The consumption of pro-vitamin A cassava could help Nigeria reduce economic losses in gross domestic product estimated at about $1.5 billion. Most importantly, it will also improve the nutrition of women and children who are the most vulnerable.
In developing countries, vitamin A deficiency remains a major bottleneck to improved nutrition with approximately 250,000 to 500,000 malnourished children going blind each year, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind. The prevalence of night blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is also high among pregnant women in many developing countries.
The yellow root color of the vitamin A-rich varieties is the product of over 20 years of breeding efforts for improved nutritional quality. Other partners in this biofortification work include the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa).