News / Africa

'Rambo' Root Packs New Vitamin A Punch

Vitamin A-enhanced Cassava Fights Malnutritioni
September 23, 2013 1:01 PM
Up to 250,000 children around the world die each year from the lack of a simple vitamin, according to the World Health Organization. Vitamin A is essential for the body to fight life-threatening infections. It's also important for vision - and the lack of it leaves more children blind than any other preventable cause. Vitamin A deficiency is especially common among the poor - who cannot afford to eat many fruits, vegetables and other vitamin-rich foods. So, as VOA’s Steve Baragona reports, researchers are working to make the staple foods they can afford more nutritious.
It’s known as the “Rambo root,” surviving through blistering heat and baking drought when maize and rice shrivel to dust.

Cassava is wildly popular across sub-Saharan Africa. Often served at breakfast, lunch and dinner, it provides about one-third of the total calories consumed across the region.

However, when it comes to a key nutrient, this tough root is a weakling.

“The typical cassava that’s white has almost no vitamin A,” said Peter Kulakow, head of cassava research at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Missing nutrient

Up to 250,000 children around the world die each year from the lack of vitamin A, an essential nutrient to fight life-threatening infections, according to the World Health Organization. It's also important for vision, and the lack of it leaves more children blind than any other preventable cause.  

Vitamin A deficiency is especially common among the poor, who can’t afford to eat many fruits, vegetables and other vitamin-rich foods.  

In Nigeria, the world’s top cassava producer, one-third of children are vitamin-A deficient.

Those numbers led IITA researchers, and partner HarvestPlus, to give the cassava a makeover. They’re developing new varieties with vitamin A built in.

Yellow flesh

Peel away the cassava’s skin and you can see the difference. The flesh of the new variety is a creamy shade of yellow, which comes from elevated levels of beta carotene, the same vitamin A precursor that makes carrots orange.

A few cassava varieties have some vitamin A in them naturally. Boosting those levels did not require genetic engineering, says Paul Ilona, HarvestPlus country manager for Nigeria.

“The same way you breed cassava to give you high starch content, high sugar level, high yield, it is the same approach that breeders have used to increase the level of vitamin A in cassava to an appreciable level,” Ilona said.
At the moment, the yellow root contains about one-third of the vitamin A content researchers are aiming for. It won’t solve the vitamin deficiency problem entirely, but Ilona believes it will help.

Out to the field

Now, the job is to get yellow cassavas out to the farmers.

IITA and its partners have spent the last few years growing enough material to distribute.

“[The year] 2013 is really a landmark year for cassava because it is the first year that farmers are getting the yellow cassava in large quantities in Nigeria,” Kulakow said.

This year, they plan to get the new plants to 100,000 farmers. Then yellow cassava can be turned into the products Nigerians love to eat, from packaged foods to loaves of bread made with 40 percent cassava flour.

The Nigerian government is backing the effort to make yellow cassava yellower and healthier, giving the so-called 'rambo root' more of a nutritious punch.

You May Like

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalistsi
May 04, 2015 3:32 PM
Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs