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Malnutrition is the cause of about a third of the annual child death toll

20% of death during pregnancy worldwide. For a healthy diet, it is not only the quantity of food that counts, but also its quality

The European research project INSTAPA (Improved Nutrition through Staple Foods in Africa) is improving the average daily diet of children and mothers living in Sub-Saharan Africa, not by altering it but by biologically enriching it.

Complete and varied nutrition is a fundamental human right and the European Commission is funding INSTAPA with the intention of ensuring this right in the poorest areas of Africa (Benin, Mali, Kenya, Burkina Faso). Out of the total project costs of €7.73 million, €5.8 million are coming from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

The typical staple foods in Sub-Saharan Africa consist of cereals, such as millet, sorghum and maize, and tubers such as cassava. This food is poor in essential micronutrients, resulting in a variety of health problems and, related to this, higher mortality. This is especially severe for pregnant women and young children, who have increased dietary requirements of such micronutrients.

INSTAPA tackles the vicious circle of malnutrition with a preventive approach: through bio-fortification and post-harvest processing, it aims to supply enriched staple foods. Throughout 2009 scientists selected crops with increased nutritional value (both in terms of quantity and higher bioavailability of the micronutrients) which were then grown. This resulted in an overall more balanced intake of minerals and vitamins.

The average daily diet is therefore being improved from the very core. New recipes booklets have been developed to suggest ways of grinding and cooking which maintain the nutritional value of the cereals: sometimes it only takes a combination of palm oil, cereals and vegetables to ensure a complete meal.

This preventive approach is innovative: it improves the quality of everyday food and involves families as active agents of the change. The cultivation of biologically valuable cereals and tubers is also offering local SMEs a chance to diversify their economy, in cohesion with the UN Millennium Goals to fight poverty.

The goal is to provide valid, long-term strategies to reverse malnutrition, bringing together scientific and technological excellence from Africa and Europe. INSTAPA involves an entire network of scientists and academics who are monitoring and assessing the actual impact of an improved diet on children’s growth and maternal health.

INSTAPA is now training African food processors as in the long run cultivating new crops could represent a great opportunity for local farmers and their families.

by S. C.
02 january 2012, World News > Africa