GAEC makes stride towards SDG2; proGARI to mitigate hidden hunger menace by Leticia AmoakoahTwum

Despite many efforts by world organizations and countries to attain the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, aimed at ending hunger, promote food security and end all forms of malnutrition (under nutrition, over nutrition and micronutrient deficiency) by 2030, reports show that the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition is still on the ascendancy. According to the latest statistics, about 9.2% of the world’s population were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2018, eventhough Asia still predominate, more than 30% of the worlds undernourished live in Africa. Food insecurity and hunger,which mostly causes malnutrition, are mainly attributed to drought, poverty,low educational level and social network. Malnutrition is linked across all the life cycle, with under nutrition in foetal and early life contributing to both immediate and longterm health problems, such as stunted physical growth, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and abdominal obesity, as well as economic costs due to loss of human capital.

Micronutrient deficiency (hidden hunger) is a form of undernutrition that occurs when intake or absorption of vitamins and minerals is too low to sustain good health and development in children and normal physical and mental function in adults. Hidden hunger in children and adolescents can cause stunting, reduced mental capacity, frequent infection,reduced learning capacity and high mortality rate. According to the World Health Organization, Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread micronutrient disorder in the world, as well as affecting a large number of children and women in developing countries.It is the only nutrient deficiency which is also significantly prevalent in industrialized countries. Two billion people, thus over 30% of the world’s population are anaemic. Mainly due to iron deficiency, and in resource poor areas, this is frequently exacerbated by infectious diseases. Some well known solutions to hidden hunger are bio-fortification of staple foods, supplementation, food synergy and fortification of commercial foods. In Ghana every four out of ten women and every six out of ten children suffer from anaemia.

Food synergy has been an economical strategy to improve nutrition especially in developing countries. Diversification of diet through the combination of many 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 nutrition due to their high protein content. Soybean can provide the body with almost all the essential amino acids and minerals needed by the body. Another effective strategy to reduce micronutrient deficiency is food fortification. Addition of micronutrient to processed food has helped to reduce the prevalence of specific micronutrients among target groups. Research by a group of Food Scientistsat 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 protein content. Additionally, the nutritional content was improved by fortifying with iron to produce proGARI.

Gari is a shelf stable processed food from cassava and consumed by many people in Ghana. It is popular among the people along the West African coast. Gari is used to make diverse delicacies and is consumed irrespective of social or educational status, because it requires minimal preparation and has a prolong shelf life due to its low moisture content. Gari is basically carbohydrate and fibre with minimal levels of other essential nutrients needed to support good health and well-being. Hence, consumption of gari alone can lead to malnutrition,which may often result in development of kwashiorkor among children. Due to its poor nutritional status, gari is most often consumed in combination with other protein sources.

proGARI was formulated to have sensory qualities similar to the conventional gari with additional advantages of being highly nutritious.The blending of soybean flour with gari has given proGARI a pleasant aroma and sweet nutty after taste.proGARIhas excellent water holding capacity and swells better than conventional gari. Additionally, proGARIhas phytochemicals that give it great health benefits as it has been found to reduce oxidative stress 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. proGARI can be consumed in diverse way as the conventional raw gari. proGARIhas very lowanti-nutritional contents. proGARI stores very well under normal ambient temperature.

Socioeconomic analysis shows that production of proGARI is more economical than conventional gari.An estimated variable cost of processing the conventional gari considering the major factors involved is Gh₵ 789.00 from a 12 m2 of land with matured cassava tubers. Estimatedtotal revenue from processing conventional gari on a 12 m2 of land is Gh₵ 1320.00. An average net profit of Gh₵ 531.00 is accrued from the production. The variable cost for production ofproGARI is Gh₵ 1,006.12. However, if proGARI is sold at the usual price of gari, which is Gh₵8.00 per olonka (1.7 Kg), the total revenue would be Gh₵ 1,672.00, resulting in a net a profit of Gh₵ 665.88. The profit difference between production of the conventional gari and proGARI is Gh₵ 134.88 (a gain for producing proGARI). Return on Investment (ROI) measures the gain or loss generated on an investment relative to the amount of money invested. The returns on investment are 66.7 and 66.8 % for both conventionalgari and proGARI,respectively.

The production of proGARI on 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 produced at the district level. Cassava is produced in every district in Ghana. Thus, it is possible to train local people within the districts to produce and supply proGARI to gari consumers within the districts. This model would provide ready market for the bumper harvests from the cassava growers under the Planting for Food and Jobs program and smallholder cassava farmers, creating additional jobs for the processors. The technology can be transferred to SMEs as part of the One District One Factory (1D1F) program. The market for gari is huge, including Senior High Schools (SHS) and the general public across the western coast of Africa. With the current Free SHS program, government can support the establishment of proGARI processing factories to supply proGARI to the schools and for export across Africa under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. This model, like the former, would also create jobs, providing ready market for cassava growers and solve health and nutrition problems across Ghana and Africa.

proGARI can be used as a strategic food to reduce hidden hunger, especially among gari consumers. proGARI is a ready to eat low moisture staple food that needs minimal processing before consumption, making it easy for people who are in conflict and drought areas to easily prepare and consume. International hunger relief organizations such as USAID, WFP, and Micronutrient Initiative provide food aid support to meet emergency needs, reduce malnutrition and support economic and social development. proGARI can be adopted by these organizations and incorporated into their food relief programs as the benefits of consuming proGARI is in line with their core values and mandate.

The Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) is an initiative of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) Pillar 3 which seeks to enhance food security and reduce hunger in line with the United Nation’s SDGs on reducing hunger, poverty and malnutrition. The program which began late 2005 in Ghana with 10 schools, currently serves over 2.8 million children in 9,495 public schools. The strategy is to increase school enrolment, domestic food production, household income and food security in deprived communities. The main aim is to provide one hot nutritious meal on every school day for deprived children. proGARI is locally made with local raw materials that are readily available. It can be prepared into diverse delicacies and included in the menu of the GSFP.

In 2017, the First Lady of Ghana,Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, with technical support from UNICEF, the Ghana Health Service, USAID and other key stakeholders launched an initiative, “reducing malnutrition and malaria in priority populations”, which aimed at reducing malnutrition and malaria mobility. The initiative is leveraging high level support for nutrition as witnessed during the launch of the Girl’s Iron-Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) program and National Breastfeeding week. Adolescent girls in public junior high, senior high, technical and vocational educational training institutions received an iron and folic acid supplement once a week through the GIFTS program being implemented in some regions in Ghana. Girls of the same age group who are not in school are receiving a supplement from health facilities. proGARI which is rich in iron can be used to supplement the GIFTS program.

The strategies to curtail the menace of malnutrition need a holistic approach. Every stakeholder has a role to play in ensuring that the SDG 2 (Zero hunger) is achieved by the year 2030. The Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission has developed proGARI as a strategic food tofacilitate the attainment of the SDG 2.

Writer is an Assistant Research Scientist, BNARI- GAEC


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