Well, you fortify food for so many reasons. First of all, when you observe a gap either in particular micro nutrient as it relates to deficiencies you find in the populace, then you think of ways by which you can remedy that. For instance, we have three different levels which include supplementation in which the micro nutrient in question is given in the form capsules or tablets or added in some food for children. But that is not sustainable because it is so expensive to import such micro nutrient dense either powders or capsules.
However the second option is fortification. In fortifying food, we look at a particular food that we believe that is available to majority of the people. And one thing with it is that if you have a centrally processed food system like you have in developed counties, ie is easier for people to make that demand. But in Nigeria you realize that many of our foods are not centrally processed so the only foods that are fortified right now are the flour; the wheat flours, the maize flour in form of semolina. You also have the vegetable oil, sugar and then you have the salt that is iodized.
These are centrally processed to some extent. Therefore is easier to use them as vehicle for fortification. But you know many Nigerians do not eat these foods as stable. Therefore we are thinking of a situation where you have small holders within each community, for instance where they make maize flour within a community, where they do rice mill and those kind of small holders within communities you can give them the fortificant that was demonstrated in Adamawa State about two years ago.
It could also help to add to the nutrient that is deficient to the food particularly micro nutrient that is the focus of food fortification. But again there another option , we call the dietary diversification which is the best option in which case the person gets all the nutrients from his diversified diets that he or she consumes because all the foods, if you can combine them appropriately to have an adequate diet, then all the micro nutrients will be available. Something happened recently in Nigeria which we need to celebrate the issue of biofortification where cassava that contained yellow flesh was found to contain adequate beta carotene which are the major source of Vitamin A.I was at the celebration at Umudike, Abia State when it was launched and what that showed was that, there is no home in Nigeria where cassava products are not consumed.
If we can develop that in such way that the cassava that is now naturally fortified with vitamin, become our source of carbohydrate foods like garri, fufu then indirectly, you are taking in enough Vitamin A that you do not need to bother so much about other sources because cassava products are well known in Nigeria and there is no where they are not consumed. It is breakthrough for Nigerian people.
As a breakthrough, can it address certain issues raised on the quality of wheat flour with cassava flour for bread?
I must say that I was alarmed when I watched on television a motion that was moved in the House of Reprentatives that cassava can lead to increase in diabetes. There were a lot of information that were given which should not have been because in the first instance, the prevalence that was quoted from that report that the diabetes rate in Nigeria is between 20-30 percent is completely not true because Diabetes rate in Nigeria is less than 10 percent.
In fact, we have not done a recent survey that just projected the percentage. The last survey was around 1992 and it was not even a nationwide survey which put the diabetic rate at 2.5 percent from 1992 till now, there is projection that it must have increased up to about 9.5 percent. So the issue of 20, 30 percent does not arise. That one is not true. The other was that the person who moved that motion said that cassava flour when added to wheat flour to make bread will increase the rate of diabetes. That is completely untrue because when we talk about diabetes are two things; the glacemic index and the glacemic load.
Now food with low glacemic index is food that diabetics are advised to consume and cassava is not among the high glacemic Index food. In fact, wheat flour has high glacemic index from between 70-72 while cassava has a glacemic index of between 46 and 60.That is the range for cassava. Having that at the back of our minds, it then means that when you mix cassava flour with low Glacemic Index with wheat flour that has high Glacemic Index, the blend that will come will have low glacemic index.
So in essence, if we are going to attack diabetes, then the mix of cassava flour and wheat flour is even the right step to start with because by the time you combine cassava flour with that wheat flour, the Glacemic Index of the overall product will come down because that of white bread is 70 as at now. So when you bring cassava flour into it, it may bring it down to about 60 or 60 point something thereby giving a better product that will now fall within the range of medium glacemic index food. Right now, bread as it is, is in high glacemic index group. So with the coming of cassava flour, you can bring it down to a medium Glacemic Index food.
So I don’t know where the person got his information from. There was a survey that was conducted in Kenya and in that survey they found that out of over 1,380 people about 86 percent got their energy calorie intake from cassava and none of them was diabetic. In the same survey, those who were diabetic in that community, they found that they rarely took cassava. They were eating other sorts of food. The point is that cassava is not listed anywhere as causative effect for diabetes.
What is your advice to the government and the public?
My advice is that the policy of government on the inclusion of cassava flour into wheat flour for the production of bread is a step in the right direction. I thought the arguments were going to be, may be the crumb structure of the bread or the weight of the bread. These were going to be issues because of the fact that there were no glutin in cassava flour. But that is not the argument.