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Kenyan Nutritionist Says Biotechnology Could Help Fight Food Deficiency

While Africa faces many hardships, malnutrition and food deficiencies are among the most compelling, according to Ruth Oniang'o, founder and executive director of Kenya's Rural Outreach Program. Compounding the problem is the spread of HIV/AIDS, which has ravished sub-Saharan Africa, and is a factor in reversing the nutritional gains made in previous years.
Food production has declined due to the impact of AIDS on the agricultural work force and, in turn, inadequate nutrition is partly to blame for many HIV cases becoming full-blown AIDS.
Oniang'o, speaking at a Monsanto luncheon presentation, said that over the past five years, no significant progress has been made in the fight against malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, about 50 percent of African children are malnourished, with adult malnutrition becoming more of a problem every day.
According to Oniang'o, vitamin A deficiency is one of the continent's most crucial problems. A lack of this essential nutrient can have a damaging effect on many aspects of human growth and development, including vision, cognitive ability and performance. It can even cause death. "We are now finding that vitamin A has much, much broader significance in survival and in growth. It affects children's survival and performance," Oniang'o said.
But this doesn't have to be the case. Supplemental doses of Vitamin A can prevent these problems from occurring. One proposed method is to give supplements along with polio vaccinations. Another uses biotechnology to create staple foods rich in beta-carotene -- such as "golden" rice or maize.
It will take more than a vitamin, Oniang'o says, to nourish a continent. Vitamin A deficiency is just part of a much bigger problem -- the general problem of food deficiency, both in quality and quality. Iodine and iron, for example, are also in short supply, with more than 60 percent of the area's population suffering from iron deficiency.
Oniang'o believes biotechnology has the potential to transform this situation. "Unless we use science and employ science properly, we are not going to be able to feed Africa. Africa can not afford to be left behind. Other parts of the world have been able to feed their people based on science," Oniang'o said.
Story written by Monsanto Public Affairs staff based on a presentation given by Ruth Oniang'o at a Monsanto lunch presentation.
The Biotech Advantage 06/26/2002