A new study led by Danforth Center principal investigator Nigel Taylor and research scientist Narayanan Narayanan, demonstrated that it is possible to raise the iron and zinc content of cassava roots while maintaining yield and other plant characteristics that are important to farmers and consumers.
With the help of Ihuoma Okwuonu of the National Root Crops Research Institute, in Umudike, Nigeria, the team also confirmed that the higher mineral levels don’t disappear during cooking common West African foods, which means that better nutrition can actually reach the dinner plate and the digestive tract. In West Africa, micronutrient deficiency of minerals like iron and zinc has caused “hidden hunger” and other health problems, including anemia. Developing new varieties of a staple food crop like cassava with elevated levels of these two minerals could significantly improve diets and health.
Taylor, Narayanan, Okwuonu and other researchers in the VIRCA Plus project are now integrating the high iron and zinc trait into cassava varieties that are popular in Nigeria, with more field evaluations and assessments planned for 2019. Further development, testing and regulatory review are needed before iron and zinc biofortified cassava could be made available to farmers and consumers in the coming years.