As governments and international organizations vigorously fight this COVID- 19 pandemic, the socioeconomic impact of measures put in place should be comprehensively analyzed by experts. As many countries and industries go under lock down, food insecurity challenges are inevitable. Food insecurity is preexisting global problem, however this pandemic has a potential to worsen the situation. Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to enough safe and nutritious food for active healthy life which includes economical availability of nutritious food. There are three (3) types of food insecurity (marginal, low and very low) likely to hit the world especially Ghana after the COVID – 19 pandemic. Marginal food insecurity is having access to adequate food but quality, variety and quantity of the food is substantially reduced. Low food security is when food eaten is of little quality and very low food security is eating less because of lack of resources.
Mostly, food experts recommend food synergy and fortification as an economical strategy to improve food insecurity (quality and quantity) especially in developing countries. Diversification of diet through the combination of many local agricultural produce can help to meet the recommended daily allowances of many essential nutrients. The use of plant based protein is very economical. Legumes, especially soybeans have been used to improve diet quality due to their high protein content. Soybean can provide the body with almost all the essential amino acids and minerals needed by the body. Research by a group of Food Scientists at the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) has resulted in the incorporation of plant based protein (soybean flour) into gari to improve its quality and quantity. Additionally, the nutritional content was improved by fortifying with micronutrients to produce proGARI.
Gari is a shelf stable processed food from cassava and popular along the West African coast. It is widely consumed by many people in Ghana. Gari is used to make diverse delicacies and is consumed irrespective of economic, social or educational status, because it requires minimal preparation and has a prolong shelf life due to its low moisture content. Despite its prolonged shelf life, it cannot be used solely to mitigate food insecurity, because, ordinary gari is basically carbohydrate and fibre with minimal levels of other essential nutrients needed to support good health and well-being. proGARI was formulated to have sensory qualities similar to the ordinary gari with additional advantages of being highly nutritious and having very low anti-nutritional content.. The blending of soybean flour with gari has given proGARI a pleasant aroma and sweet nutty after taste. proGARI has excellent water holding capacity and swells better than conventional gari. Additionally, proGARI has phytochemicals that give it great health benefits as it has been found to reduce oxidative stress, boost immunity and can potentially reduce the risk of many diseases including inflammatory conditions, hypertension, diabetes and cancers. proGARI can be used to reduce iron deficiency anaemia and protein malnutrition among consumers. It can be consumed in diverse way as the ordinary gari.
The production of proGARI on a large scale can be considered for cottage industry as the inputs for its initial capital establishment are low. The raw materials are also available as gari is produced in almost all the regions of the country. It can create jobs for the rural dwellers particularly young women. The formulation and processes for producing proGARI have been well developed and documented. A training manual has been developed and the technology already packaged for commercialization. proGARI can be used as a strategic food to reduce food insecurity, especially among gari consumers. It can be used in the government and benevolent organisations’ social interventions (food relief programs) currently going on during this period of restricted movement and low economic activities. Subsequently, it can be used in the Ghana School Feeding Program or commercialized for public consumption.
The COVID -19 pandemic has enlightened this nation on the need to work towards self sufficiency, developing our industries especially the food industries to ensure food security at all times.
By Leticia Amoakoah Twum
The Writer is a Assistant Research Scientist, BNARI- GAEC