For better nutrition for all, Cross River State has commenced the commercialisation process of biofortified foods across the 18 local government areas of the state.
Starting with the launching on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Calabar, the state capital, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Harvest Plus brought together people from Government, academia, agriculture and commerce to unlock the benefit of biofortified crops and how there improve nutrition as well as tackle food insecurity.
The stakeholders were made to understand the different types of biofortified crops with respect to cassava, maize, potatoes and others and how there can be cultivated, processed and packaged in a commercial quantity to export and also sell within the state.
The objective of the programme include (1) improve access to agricultural inputs, (2) increase demand and consumption of biofortified crops and food products and (3) improve the enabling environment for biofortified foods and products through commercialisation.
In his opening remarks, Ntufam Okon Owonah, Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cross River State, said the state needs the corporation of everyone to drive the agricultural sector in other to tackle food insecurity and undernutrition.
Owonah who was represented by Mr Gabriel Ofon, Director, Special Services from the Ministry said: “Agriculture, especially when referring to food security is a programme that requires a collective effort of all stakeholders, working as a team to realise its objectives. It is a marriage that leads to the nutritious value of food.
“We’ll like to create a buffer for what will supply for us today and consider its output. Striving for nutrition, we thrive on nutritious food and a balanced diet. More often, we look at the producers who are the farmers when talking about food security but we actually need the corporation of every sector in driving the process”.
He added that: “In Cross River State, the Governor told us in his first tenure that no child will go hungry – and to ensure that the child is not only fed but with a balanced diet. So, under the leadership of Governor Ben Ayade, we are committed to the challenges in achieving the objectives of this programme”.
In her goodwill message, Dr Rosemary Archibong, Commissioner for Commerce, Cross River State said she is happy that the state has been placed in an advantage to drive the programme. She said the government cannot do it alone but a collective effort from various stakeholders, particularly the private sector will go a long way.
“I am happy that Cross River State has been placed at a very serious advantage – that is because the actors have shown capacity and drive. Beginning from the Governor who has industrialised the state and wants to see energetic citizens, businessmen, workers thrive, he does not compromise nutrition.
“We are the traders, you are the farmers, we got to be involved even in your farming process so that we can see what you are putting out. Apart from the cost of garri being so high, we are not even sure of its nutritious value. We don’t even have big production companies – which has led to poor quality – and you know the effect of poor quality foods to the body”.
Continuing, Archibong said: “We have gone past the state of breeding bad rice, cassava just to fill the stomach. We have gone past the state of eating inorganic products which have been compromised. When we are healthy, we will be strong on the field and the outcome will be a massive harvest.
“The sub-regions, Gulf of Guinea are looking up to Nigeria and if we can produce highly nutritious products, we will be smiling to the bank. Oil is going, we need to return back to the soil”, she maintained.
On his part, Mr Eval Asikong, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Ben Ayade on Research said: “Cassava is the only staple that grows across the State and this is why the state is rated the highest producer of cassava. The consumption of cassava comes with a lot of starch but the biofortified staple will help improve the nutritional value.
“The Governor has a soft spot for agro-allied products. He has resolved to go into industrialisation, basically the agro-allied sector, so, this biofortification initiative is a very welcome initiative”, Asikong added.
Speaking in a separate interview, Roy Ndoma-Egba, a private consultant and the convener of the programme said if the government creates an enabling environment, the private sector, most especially the youths can drive this initiative by GAIN and HarvestPlus.
“For Cross River State, Government has been very focused. As far back as 2010, it was the thought of the Government then to work towards ameliorating hunger, reduce malnutrition, encourage increase food production – the State Food and Nutrition Committee was put together to help drive that policy of Government.
“It is the Government primary responsibility to create the enabling environment. What we have been hoping to achieve is to have a strong private sector driving the entire concept. The government on the other hand is overburdened with too many programmes, so, we can address this issue if we can encourage the private sector. We need to have access to finance for the rural farmers, we need to make sure that young men and women can have access to funding to support their initiative that adds value to what is going on today”, Ndoma-Egba said.
Speaking also, Prof. Margaret Agiang, Chairman, Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN), Cross River State chapter said as recommended as biofortified foods are, there are not commonly found in the market – this is something that needs more advocacy and sensitisation, especially to the rural dwellers.
Agiang who was represented by Prof. Nkechi Ene-Obong, a patron of the state chapter of NSN, said: “Biofortified foods are the staples we always recommend but there are not found in the market. Now, the people who grow these food staples are not cultivating them – it is something to be worried about.
“Micronutrient deficiency (hidden hunger) is affecting the system but these biofortified foods will help reduce that. We need to do a lot of advocacy, sensitisation for our people to adopt this course – like leaving white corn for yellow corn. We are part and parcel of this and we are always available in any area you want us to partner”, she added.
Venerable Augustine Oqua, Chairman, Cassava Farmers Association, Cross River State highlighted the challenges of cultivating these biofortified crops to include conflicts with herders, high cost of cassava stems, etc.
He said: “This programme is channelled through food security and it is a welcome development. We plan to key into the GAIN project. We have seen the damage caused to our health due to poor processing of casava – our production process is bad, we don’t allow it to go into proper processing – that is why we need this biofortified cassava.
“We are pleading with GAIN and HarvestPlus to make sure these yellow (biofortified) casava stems are made affordable to all Cross Riverians. We are also pleading with the Government to address the farmer-herder clash, else we are planting for nothing. I want to pray that by next year, as our planes (Cally Air) will be flying out, there will be carrying our biofortified garri (Cally Garri)”.
On the cultivation of these biofortified crops, Mr Bassey Edet, Programme Manager, Cross River Agricultural Development Programme (CRADP) said: “We have a structure that covers the entire Cross River State and we work with the rural farmers where these biofortified products are targeted. We have been using our women in the CRADP to carry out sensitisation in the rural areas and we are going to ensure that our people accept this development as Vitamin A is paramount to the health. We will help GAIN and HarvestPlus boost the production of these biofortified products”.
Dr Josephat Ogar, Chairman of, Cross River State Committee on Food and Nutrition gave an overview of the food and nutrition status of the state. He said the committee has been able to implement the promotion of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding at health facility and community, promotion of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding during MNCHW (Maternal Newborn and Child Health Week), sensitise the health care providers and professional on breast milk substitute (BMS) Code at both State and LGA levels, advocate for an increase in maternity leave from three months to six months, social safety net and school feeding programmes.
He thanked GAIN and HarvestPlus for partnering with the committee to reduce vitamin ‘A’ deficiency in the State through the introduction of provitamin ‘A’ cassava to farmers under the auspices of the Commercialisation of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Project.
On their parts, Dr Michael Ojo, Country Director of GAIN Nigeria who was ably represented and Dr Paul Ilona, Country Director of HarvestPlus, also represented, gave an overview of GAIN and HarvestPlus programmes in Nigeria.
The programme was launched by Prof. Ivara Esu, Deputy Governor of Cross River State who was represented by Dr Rosemary Archibong, Commissioner for Commerce.
Watch Video of the Launching Below…