Farming For Balanced Nutrition: An Agricultural Approach To Addressing Micronutrient Deficiency Among The Vulnerable Poor In Africa|
Concepts on malnutrition have evolved from an emphasis on protein deficiency through energy deficit, to the realization that food quality in general and an adequate supply of micronutrients in particular, is often more of a problem than food quantity. Throughout the developing world, micronutrient deficiency is one of the most important factors influencing human health, being directly responsible for conditions such as xeropthalmia, associated with vitamin A deficiency and anaemia, due to iron deficiency. In addition, micronutrient deficiency predisposes children to infection and retards recovery from common infections such as malaria, measles and diarrhoea. The groups most at risk from micronutrient deficiency are usually children and those for whom labour for food production is limited by ill health (HIV sufferers), advanced age or intense social commitments (single mothers, for example). There have been numerous health projects in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, to address micronutrient deficiency through the distribution of vitamin and mineral supplements, which usually have to be imported. An alternative (or complementary) approach is to promote the inclusion of high quality food crops in the farming system to enrich the diet with essential vitamins and minerals. This agricultural approach to the problem of micronutrient deficiency can provide sustainable solutions, which improve diet quality. An increase in the cultivation of high quality foods such as legumes, fruits and green vegetables, may be able to deliver a balanced diet to households, without necessarily requiring additional land and labour. Agricultural approaches to enhance dietary intake of vitamins and minerals have the additional advantage that they foster community self-reliance, they are sustainable in the absence of external funding, and, offer the opportunity for enhanced income by marketing surplus production. Diet diversification through better use of existing biodiversity offers an immediate means to address poor diet quality and can also include the use of presently available nutritionally enhanced crops, such as orange-fleshed sweet potato.
micronutrients, deficiency, agriculture, diet diversity