Since 2004, ORE's crop breeding program has been focusing on enhancing the nutritional content of Haiti's major staple crops: breeding crops for better nutrition. By improving the nutrient content of staple foods, and propagation nutritious tree crops it is possible to help resolve several factors that contribute to malnutrition in Haiti.
Biofortified staple food to help reduce malnutrition
Malnutrition, due to a deficiency of micronutrients in the diet, directly affects the health of over half the world's people. Millions of preschool age children have visible eye damage due to Vitamin A deficiency and many of them will go blind. Micronutrient malnutrition is primarily the result of diets poor in bio-available vitamins and minerals; diets consisting primarily of least expensive staple foods.
Biofortification is the process of breeding staple food crops that are rich in bio-available nutrients. Through plant breeding, crops fortify themselves and load nutrients into their seeds and roots, which are then harvested and eaten. Through biofortification, it is possible to provide farmers with crop varieties that naturally reduce anemia, cognitive impairment, and other nutritionally related health problems, and potentially reach millions of people.
A look at some of our main nutritional programs
About Biofortified Food Systems
Speaking of Biofortied food systems, HarvestPlus, an International Food Policy consortium, states that: 'This approach has multiple advantages. First, it capitalizes on the regular daily intake of a consistent and large amount of food staples by all family members. Because staple foods predominate in the diets of the poor, this strategy implicitly targets low-income households.
Second, after the one-time investment to develop seeds that fortify themselves, recurrent costs are low, and germ plasm can be shared internationally. This multiplier aspect of plant breeding across time and distance makes it cost-effective.
Third, once in place, the biofortified crop system is highly sustainable. Nutritionally improved varieties will continue to be grown and consumed year after year, even if government attention and international funding for micronutrient issues fade. Fourth, biofortification provides a feasible means of reaching undernourished populations in relatively remote rural areas, delivering naturally fortified foods to people with limited access to commercially marketed fortified foods that are more readily available in urban areas. Biofortification and commercial fortification, therefore, are highly complementary.
Finally, breeding for higher trace mineral density in seeds will not incur a yield penalty (3,4). In fact, biofortification may have important spin-off effects for increasing farm productivity in developing countries in an environmentally beneficial way. Mineral-packed seeds sell themselves to farmers because these trace minerals are essential in helping plants resist disease and other environmental stresses. Moreover, a higher proportion of seedlings survive, initial growth is more rapid, and ultimately yields are higher.
Selection and Production of Quality-Protein Maize (QPM)
ORE has been working with quality-protein maize (QPM) developed by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), selecting locally adapted varieties for use in Haiti. The goal is to prevent malnutrition among the rural population, many of them children. Kwashiorkor, caused by chronic lack of protein in the diet, is prevalent among the poorest sectors of the rural population in Haiti, producing the swollen belly, scaly skin, and spindly limbs seen in starving children. Since corn is planted on an estimated 45% of Haiti's farmland (SISA/USAID 1995), and is one of the major source of calories in the national diet, the impact of quality protein corn will be immediate on the nutritional well-being of the population.
ORE has established a collaborative program with the Colombian based International Center for Tropical Agriculture to develop improved bean seeds adapted to the Haitian farming conditions. CIAT claims that "nearly two billion people are currently iron-deficient, and the incidence is increasing globally (United Nations Administrative Committee on Nutrition, 1992; World Bank 1994)." The CIAT breeding program has developed high-yielding bean lines that are significantly enriched in bio-available Fe levels. Our collaboration with CIAT has also been helpful in promoting research of selected varieties of other nutritional crops essential to the local diet.
Vitamin-rich Sweet Potatoes
ORE has been collaborating with CIP, an international research centre and participating in AGROSALUD, the regional bio-fortified food program to promote the most nutrient-rich sweet potatoes in Haiti. ORE has been multiplying large quantities of sweet potato cuttings for farmers to plant. The goal is to help Haiti develop its own seed-producing capabilities making it possible to help thousands of the farmers to grow improved sweet potato. The result will be a year-round source of Vitamin A and other micro-nutrients, providing better nutrition for the needy sectors of the population.
Extending Fruit Production Seasons
The signs of malnutrition among Haiti's rural population, particularly in children, have been seen to be reduced during the production seasons of avocados and mangos.
Avocados: Avocado is one of the highest calorie fruits. It is high in protein, vitamins and other nutrients and is a major part of the peasant's diet when in season. J. W. Pursglove states in Tropical Crops that "avocados have the highest energy value of any fruit; in California they average 1,000 calories per lb, with a maximum 1,375 calories per lb." The flesh contains oil 3-30 per cent and is rich in vitamin B, A and E. Varieties such as Choquette and Lula, which were introduced in Haiti by ORE in 1985, bear fruit between December and March, and thereby extend the production season by four months. By combining early and late season varieties it is possible to extend the production season to ten months of the year.
Mangos: ORE has also introduced late season mango varieties such as the Zill Late which helps to extend the already exceptionally long mango production through most of the year.
Citrus: Citrus varieties such as the Tangelo, which ORE introduced in the 1980s and propagated in huge quantities, tend to bear fruit throughout the year, providing a year-round source of vitamin C.
Malnutrition is prevalent among the rural population of Haiti, many of them children. Kwashiorkor, caused by chronic lack of protein in the diet, is prevalent among the poorest sectors of the rural population in Haiti, producing the swollen belly, scaly skin, and spindly limbs seen in starving children. Since corn is planted on an estimated 45% of Haiti's farmland (SISA/USAID 1995), and is one of the major source of calories in the national diet, the impact of quality protein corn will be immediate on the nutritional well-being of the population.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) remains an important public health problem in developing countries. Orange fleshed sweet potato varieties have high contents of beta-carotenoid and potentially can reduce the effects of vitamin A deficiency. Micronutrient malnutrition can lower IQ, cause stunting and blindness in children, lower resistance to disease in both children and adults, and significantly increases risks for both mothers and infants during childbirth. The costs in terms of lives lost and reduced quality of life are overwhelming. Sweet potato is one of the most important crops in Haiti - so by introducing nutrient-rich varieties it is possible to bring Vitamin-A rich foods to the poorest sectors of the population.
Iron deficiency is a principal cause of anemia. 30 percent of the world's population are anemic, mainly due to iron deficiency, and, in developing countries, frequently exacerbated by malaria and worm infections. For children, health consequences include premature birth, low birth weight, infections, and elevated risk of death. Later, physical and cognitive development are impaired, resulting in lowered school performance. For pregnant women, anemia contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths (World Health Organization). The production and distribution to farmers of iron-rich beans is another factor helping to address Haiti's nutritional needs.
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