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Seeking to "A-Maize" Western Africa With Anemia-Abatement StrategyBy Luis Pons
April 18, 2003
It's not necessarily how much food you eat, but how nutritious it is, that counts.
That's the foundation of a strategy for halting iron deficiency anemia in western Africa developed by an Agricultural Research Service scientist and a Nigeria-based international agriculture agency.
Iron deficiency anemia can retard mental development and impair physical growth in children, and lower disease resistance, complicate pregnancies and reduce capacity for manual labor in adults.
More than half of Nigeria's children and women of childbearing age suffer from this anemia, the major cause of which is lack of iron in the diet that is available for absorption.
Human physiologist Raymond Glahn of ARS' U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., and researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Technology (IITA) headquartered in Ibadan, Nigeria, believe a plant-enhancing process called "biofortification" can help turn this tide of nutrient shortfall.
Biofortification utilizes traditional breeding techniques to make iron in staple food crops more absorption-available. This process will increase the nutritional quality--and popularity--of maize varieties already bred, grown and consumed in western Africa.
Glahn and ITTA scientists have begun research that will be needed if this strategy is to succeed. They are identifying the iron-rich strains of maize currently being grown in Nigeria and finding which are most adaptable to all of its land and climate zones. Maize is a staple of the western African diet.
ITTA scientists chose 69 varieties known for high grain yield and disease resistance, and they grew them in three regions of Nigeria that have different climates and elevations. After harvest, the maize was sent to Ithaca, where Glahn tested it using an "artificial gut" he invented. This in vitro technique makes it possible to readily assess the bioavailability of iron in grains and other foodstuffs.
More information about this research can be found in the April 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.