Participants of the National Biosafety Authority  4th Biosafety Conference
Participants of the National Biosafety Authority 4th Biosafety Conference

NAIROBI, KENYA / August 14, 2015 — Scientists working to improve the nutrition of sorghum have succeeded in increasing the level of vitamin A and also dramatically improved its stability during storage, under the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project said the Africa Harvest Director for the Food, Nutritional Security Program, Dr Michael Njuguna, at the Fourth Biosafety Conference in Nairobi on 14 August 2015.

The conference is held annually by Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA).  This year’s theme is “Enhancing coordination, collaboration and partnerships for effective implementation of Biosafety regulations”.

Dr. Njuguna told conference attendees that the ABS project started several years ago, and was a response to a challenge by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) that asked scientists to come up with ways of increasing micro-nutrients in major African crops.  Africa Harvest partnered with DuPont Pioneer and others to improve the nutrition of sorghum.

“The improvement of Vitamin A in sorghum to levels that may result in delivery of increased levels of vitamin A to resource-poor communities in some parts of Africa is a significant development,” said Dr. Njuguna.  “This is an important step for an African food that is naturally deficient in key nutrients”.

Dr. Njuguna explained that Vitamin A levels normally degrade after three weeks of grain storage and continue to degrade over time.  “We have been able to reduce beta carotene degradation by over 100 percent under certain stage conditions; this means farmers can store the vitaminA enriched sorghum for longer periods”.

Micronutrient deficiency is often called the “hidden hunger.” It is not obvious until too late, when there is permanent damage that leads to a lifetime of consequences.  In Africa, up to half a million children become blind from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) with increased risk of cognitive impairment, disease and death from severe infections.  Furthermore, nearly 600,000 women die from childbirth-related causes, many from complications that could be reduced through more vitamin A in their diet.

“The research breakthroughs and subsequent commercial deployment may also help (together with other health improvement initiatives) to improve nutrition for the nearly 300 million people in Africa who depend on sorghum, but who do not have access to another staple that provides the essential nutrients that sorghum lacks,” said Dr. Njuguna

Dr Michael Njuguna, presents the progress of the ABS Project.
Dr Michael Njuguna, presents the progress of the ABS Project.

Apart from DuPontPioneer and Africa Harvest, the ABS Project collaboration brings together several African research organizations, including the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Nigeria’s National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA), and the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), and, South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council.DuPont Pioneer donated the original technology and has contributed technical and capacity building support to this initiative.

“The momentum of the ABS project underlines the need for broad-based partnerships to address food and nutrition insecurity and improve agricultural systems in Africa and around the world,” Dr. Njuguna said.  “Apart from the DuPont Pioneer technology donation and expertise, the private sector’s discipline of turning science into beneficial products has been a critical ingredient of success with ABS Initiative,” he noted.

While DuPont Pioneer contributes technology andagriculture expertise, as well as monetary, in-kind and capacity building support, organizations such as Africa Harvest play a critical role in this humanitarian effort.  Africa Harvest’s leadership in managing research efforts in East and West Africa and advocating for workable biotechnology regulations has helped ensure this collaboration remains on track to deliver benefits to Africa.

Click here to watch the ABS video on YouTube.

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