Zimbabwe must shift focus from generalised crop production to foods that are bio-fortified, and high in nutrients if the country is to have a healthier population to drive its development objectives, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
Micro-nutrient deficiency is a big challenge in Zimbabwe with an estimated one in every five children under the age of five and one in every five women between 15 and 49 years suffering from a lack of Vitamin A.
A large number of children and women are also anaemic due to a lack of critical nutrients in the food they consume.
And to address this challenge, the government, working with the British government's Department for International Development (DfID) is promoting the growth of bio-fortified crops especially among smallholder farmers.
Bio-fortification refers to the process of breeding food crops that are rich in micro-nutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and iron.
Bio-fortified crops that are currently being promoted in Zimbabwe include maize, sugar beans and sweet potatoes.
Senior Principal Director in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Mary Mubi said it was time the country's agriculture sector moved away from producing crops just aimed at "filling people stomachs without necessarily nourishing them."
"Our agriculture sector has long been criticised for its pre-occupation on feeding the nation and filling people's stomachs without necessarily nourishing them, with national food security being interpreted by many as cereal adequacy for the majority of the population, thus our programmes and efforts have supported and ensured that people have adequate access to white maize with little consideration of access to key micro-nutrients needed for growth and development," she said at a bio-fortification event.
"As a result, we have a population that continues to grow in size but their bodies lack key elements to enable them to reach their full growth and reproductive potential."
She said Zimbabwe's vision to attain an upper middle income economy by
2030 can only be realised through a healthy population.
"While we may have all the minerals in the world, all the arable land, if we do not improve the quality of our human capital, we cannot reach our vision," she said.
Production of bio-fortified crops would lessen the burden on the country's health infrastructure through avoidable diseases if people consumed crops that are rich in nutrients.
DfID head in Zimbabwe, Annabel Gerry said it was imperative for the country to have a nutrient sensitive agriculture sector.
"Nutrition is central to sustainable development goals that all countries, including Zimbabwe, have signed up to," she said.
She added:"Zimbabwe does face significant nutrition challenges but gains have been made since 2000, but more needs to be done to tackle the hidden hunger of micro-nutrient deficiency."
Micro-nutrient deficiency, she said, resulted in malnourishment and was a worldwide challenge, estimated to be costing the global economy over US$3.5 trillion annually.
To address the problem of malnourishment in Zimbabwe, DfID was championing production of bio-fortified crops through the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme.
The programme seeks to contribute to poverty reduction through increased agricultural productivity, increased incomes, and improved food and nutrition security for small holder farmers.
Over 300 000 farming households have so far participated in the programme.
The Food and Agricultural Organisations representative for Southern Africa, Dr Alain Onibon lauded the collaborative efforts between the government and development partners to promote production of bio-fortified crops.
On exhibition at the event were all types of confectionery such as scones, bread, buns and biscuits baked out of bio-fortified crops.
- New Ziana.