High Iron and zinc beans: The new panacea for malnutrition in Zimbabwe

 by Eileen Nchanji and Bruce Mutari

Most rural households in Zimbabwe are vulnerable from multiple climatic shocks, cash shortages, price changes, health issues resulting in 33% of the households not getting enough food with 10% experiencing severe hunger. This scenario has translated to a decrease in households consuming adequate diet and an increase in households consuming poor diets according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics of 2016. In 2019, the situation is deteriorating further, with more households experiencing additional economic challenges. Urban households currently suffer from cash shortages (64%), high food prices (57%), health and funeral expenses (31%) loss of employment (25%), and high fuel/transport costs (17%). This has resulted in a 31% increase of urban households who cannot meet their food needs according to Urban livelihood assessment, 2019.

Macro/micronutrient-related malnutrition is still a big challenge in many African countries, including Zimbabwe, with far-reaching consequences for human capital, economic productivity, and national development. More than half of the Zimbabwean rural households are poor, even though agriculture is their primary livelihood; and most of the income generated is still spent on purchasing food.

According to the World Health Organisation, malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances resulting from a person’s intake of macro and micronutrients. There are three conditions of malnutrition: Undernutrition – results in wasting when the weight is too low for the height, stunting when the height is too low for the age, and underweight when the weight is too low for the age; micro/macronutrient-related malnutrition, happens when the body lacks essential vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrate; and overweight is too much intake of macro and micronutrients.

The above challenges combined with the early childbearing age in Zimbabwe has severe consequences to adolescent girls who are more likely to be malnourished and have low birth weight babies. This has contributed to only 10% of children (6 – 23months) fed on an unacceptable diet with appropriate frequency and diversity. Anaemia prevalence varies from 29% to 40% and, stunting levels among children under five improved vary from 29% to 22% in rural and urban areas, respectively. However, overweight has increased from 31% to 35% in the same period (Demographic and Health Survey and ICF International, 2016).

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture/Pan African Bean Research Alliance (CIAT/PABRA) through the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) project in collaboration with Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR & SS) have been working hard to reduce micro/macronutrient deficiency. This is through the breeding and release of high iron and zinc beans such as NUA 45 and sweet violet. To increase awareness of these micronutrient beans for better nutrition, health and income generation; DR & SS is working with other partners both national and international to disseminate NUA45 and sweet violet seeds combined with complementary information on crop management and marketing to schools and farmer groups.

Grade 7 from Mhakwe Primary School pupils in the high iron and zinc beans

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education selected fourteen primary schools in addition to 8 farmer groups (three women groups, three youth groups, and two mixed groups) located in the northeastern (Chimanimani, Nyanga and Mutasa) and southwestern (Mt Darwin, Shurugwi, Gokwe South and Kwekwe) bean corridors of Zimbabwe.

“In addition to training the students and farmer groups on the importance of growing high iron and zinc beans, we are also lobbying for its inclusion in the school feeding programmes to increase the percentage of children consuming an acceptable diet which are diverse with adequate nutrients.:” said Dr. Eileen Nchanji, CIAT’s Gender Specialist.

In line with Zimbabwe’s National food fortification programme, the project is facilitating linkages between farmers growing high iron and zinc beans with aggregators and processors; generating income for all actors and securing nutrition and health. Partnerships with private processors like Cairns, Healthy Foods and other informal processors who produce high iron and zinc-based products are already in place.

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