A Global Network to support the Nutritional Quality Enhancement of Potato and Sweetpotato

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February 11, 2013 By: Rory Sheldon

From January 14 to 18, a meeting was held at CIP’s headquarters to create a Network to guarantee the improvement of the nutritional quality of roots and tubers. The Network will be a magnificent opportunity to promote research and strengthen collaboration among researchers from the North and the South to identify specific needs and opportunities for these crops.

(11 Feb 2013) In January 2013, the International Potato Center (CIP) hosted a formative meeting focused on establishing a global network to support the enhancement of the nutritional quality of potato and sweetpotato as well as other root and tuber crops (RTC) under the umbrella of A4NH – the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. Labeled as “Nutritional Quality Assurance and Enhancement Network (NQAEN)”, this initiative aims to build knowledge and capacity to enable researchers to assure accurate and cost-effective assessments of micronutrient concentrations of potato and sweetpotato; and to look for research opportunities to contribute in building evidence that micronutrients of potato and sweetpotato and their products are bioavailable for the human body.

Currently over three billion people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, particularly in developing countries where insufficient intake of iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), and Vitamin A constitute the most common micronutrient deficiencies. Several plant breeding initiatives have been set up to increase the Fe, Zn and Vitamin A concentration of RTC to improve human nutrition. RTC are largely locally traded, are accessible and affordable to producers and consumers and less subject to global price fluctuations than are, for example, grain crops. This makes RTC an important source for food security in the developing world, and establishing a global network to assure and enhance their nutritional quality is of utmost importance to CIP and its global partners.

During the meeting held in CIP’s Lima headquarters, Thomas zum Felde, CIP’s Plant Quality Specialist elaborated that, “Realizing the potential of RTCs to contribute improving nutrition and health status of low income populations requires not only concerted efforts and collaborations among scientists to biofortify these crops, but also the need to assure accuracy in the determination of micronutrients, and to show evidence that micronutrients of RTC are available to the human body.”

The general objectives of the meeting were firstly to develop a work plan for assuring quality of micronutrient analysis in potato and sweetpotato in Asian and later in African countries and secondly to elaborate a strategy for evaluation of micronutrient bioavailability in potato and sweetpotato cultivars and biofortified clones. During the meeting, participants were familiarized with new approaches in agricultural research for development. Especially the links with nutrition and health and advances on research related to micronutrient characterization and evaluation of bioavailability of micronutrients were discussed. Following the meeting, Thomas zum Felde said that the participants felt confident that needs and opportunities had been adequately addressed, and that “partnerships will be developed between the invited advanced research institutions and applied research organizations”.

The NQAEN formative meeting relied upon the participation of Gordon Prain (Leader of CIP’s Global Program ‘Social and Health Sciences’), Graham Thiele (Program Director of CGIAR Research Program – Roots, Tubers and Bananas), Erick Boy (HarvestPlus’ Nutrition Manager), Oladeji Alamu (Head of Quality Lab at IITA, Nigeria), Mohanta Haridas (Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute), Munirul Islam (ICDDR, Bangladesh), Gabriela Burgos (CIP) amongst other specialists from CIP, Danièle Evers (Centre de Recherche Public – Gabriel Lippmann, Luxemburg), Stan Kubow (McGill University, Canada), and Thomas zum Felde (CIP) who is leading the NQAEN.