Proper nutrition in the 1,000 days from the beginning of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday determines long-term health and prosperity for families, nations and the world, according to The Atlantic.
Malnourishment during the first 1,000 days compromises cognitive and physical development, stunting a child. And a stunted child grows into a stunted adult.
Nations with high child-stunting rates—in more than 40 countries, at least 30 percent of children under five are stunted—calculate that they annually lose as much as 5 to 17 percent of their GDP due to lost productivity, reduced schooling, and high health costs, all of which stem from stunting that begins in the 1,000 days,” The Atlantic reports. “In essence, malnutrition keeps poor countries poor.”
A critical element to prevent malnutrition and stunting is whether families have access to nutrient-rich crops.
Smallholder farmers in rural Africa often grow backyard crops in addition to the dietary staples of maize, wheat and rice, but lagging agricultural research and development in sub-Saharan Africa means these crops are rarely researched, according to The Guardian.
The newly launched African Plant Breeding Academy wants to change this by studying the genomes of 100 traditional African backyard crops.
The aim is to produce more robust and nutritionally improved varieties of these ‘backyard’ crops, and to make them available to smallholders everywhere,” The Guardian reports.
The academy hopes to identify which genes are related to higher nutritional content. Baobab fruit, for example, can contain high levels of vitamin C. But the vitamin content varies from one provenance to another.
Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development, Akinwumi Adesina, recommended governments focus on improving the technology delivery systems for farmers, especially extension systems to improve farmers’ knowledge of nutrient rich crops, according to The Guardian.
Increasing government funding for plant breeding and making sure farmers have access to the resulting innovations could dramatically improve nutrition, food security and give children the healthy start they need.