Maputo — Mozambique's Food and Nutritional Security Technical Secretariat (SETSAN) has lamented that chronic malnutrition remains at an unacceptably high levels, damaging the country's development.
Speaking in Maputo during a seminar to discuss Mozambique's strategy for orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP), SETSAN National Coordinator Marcela Libombo explained that the current rate of poverty in the country stands at 54.7 per cent.
According to Libombo, "we urgently need to find holistic solutions to improve access to food, nutritional education, personal hygiene and sanitation in order to improve the situation".
The seminar was organized by the non-governmental organisation Helen Keller International in partnership with the Mozambican government, through SETSAN, as part of the project Reaching Agents of Change (RAC).
Dercio Matale from RAC explained that the event sought to mobilize at least six million US dollars to encourage the cultivation of OFSP in Mozambique. The sweet potatoes have high quantities of vitamin A.
According to a survey last year, the level of chronic malnutrition in Mozambique stands at 43 per cent, while micronutrient deficiency affects about two thirds of pre-school age children and is one of the causes of infant mortality.
Meanwhile, a study published by SETSAN in 2006 showed that food insecurity affects 36 per cent of the Mozambican population.
"These figures are too high and reflect the cruellest human manifestation of poverty", said Libombo, who supports promoting OFSP as part of a bio-fortification strategy.
According to SETSAN, this is an approach based on foods that can be grown by communities while offering a sustainable, low cost and rapid access to micronutrients.
OFSP was re-launched in the country after the floods of 2000. Since then the National Institute of Agronomic Research (IIAM) has distributed over 300,000 seedlings and approved 18 new varieties.
Participants acknowledged that while Mozambique has a set of policies aimed at improving food security and nutrition, none of them mentions bio-fortification as a viable, low cost and easy dissemination strategy to solve the problem of malnutrition.
In addition, it was agreed that there is a lack of resources to allow the rapid dissemination of OFSP across the country.
In Mozambique, only about 300,000 households grow OFSP, with an annual production estimated at 800,000 tonnes.
According to Matale, it is hoped to persuade another 200,000 families to grow OFSP over the next two years, which would bring the potato's nutritional benefits to 600,000 families.