Amidst concerns of food insecurity and herdsmen attacks on firms, the increase in number of Nigerians taking to agriculture in the last decade has hit commendable rates. There has been a new surge of youths becoming entrepreneurs through plant and livestock farming. Recent trends in the more urbane cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Calabar, have brought some of these farmers in direct contact with consumers and food fairs and events such as the Simply Nigerian Fair, Nigerian Food Festival, GTBank Food and drink fair and several others.
More encouraging is the fact that these farmers seem to be willing to embrace new practices for the greater good of the country. One of such practices is ‘Bio-fortification’, a process of breeding and using biotechnology to increase the nutritional quality of food. As confirmed by Dr Paul Ilona – the Country Manager of Harvestplus – in a meeting with the News Agency of Nigeria in Ibadan, over one million farmers are growing bio-fortified crops in Nigeria. Harvestplus is an international agriculture organisation with its Nigeria Office situated in Ibadan, Oyo State. What this translates to is that levels of micronutrients like vitamin A, Zinc and iron in plants are increased and with this the less privileged populace have more of much-needed nutrients while still consuming their usual diets.
In differentiating ‘bio-fortification’ from ‘ordinary fortification’, Dr Paul Ilona explained, “Their concepts are similar, but their applications differ. In food fortification you introduce new essential nutrients into foods, but in bio-fortification, the plant produces its nutrients directly and naturally”.
Increase in nutrients of fortified crops might lead to slight alterations in colour and texture and without proper briefing on health benefits, might lead to reluctance on the part of end consumers in accepting it.
Dr Ilona also said that no less than six million people in the country are consuming more nutritious foods from bio-fortified crops as a result of Harvestplus’ efforts to address malnutrition. This has in turn affected the lives of citizens as employment opportunities have also been generated as a result of this initiative.