Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Improved crops protect African children from malnutrition (Nutrition)

Project Acronym: INSTAPA

Title of project: Novel staple food-based strategies to improve micronutrient status for better health and development in sub-Saharan Africa

Research area: Nutrition

Contract No: 211484

Project coordinator: Inge Brouwer,

EU Contribution : 5 900 284

Start date: June 2008

Duration: 60 Months

Status: on-going

The EU is committed to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and is working hard to eradicate poverty and improve living conditions by 2015. Malnutrition, and especially deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A, is restricting progress towards achieving these goals. While dietary supplements enriched in these and other micronutrients can be made available, there are many questions concerning the benefits, distribution, use and safety of supplementation. An alternative approach is to look at ways of providing these nutritional needs through diet, and in particular through staple foods which form the major components of a given diet.

This project aims to identify novel staple food-based approaches to reduce micronutrient deficiencies and improve the health and development of women and children in sub-Saharan Africa. It is focusing on the improvement of millet-, sorghum-, maize-, and cassava-based (complementary) foods. The genetic potential of staple foods for increasing their micronutrient content and decreasing their anti-nutrient content is part of the research. The challenges of introducing such bio-fortified staple foods into local farming systems will be assessed. In addition, the efficacy of bio-fortified staple foods with adequate levels of provitamin A will be determined.

The project is also developing and testing new approaches to optimise iron and zinc fortification of staple food-based products. The project will develop improved (traditional) processing methods for staple foods that enhance micronutrient uptake and bioavailability. The approaches developed in the area of bio-fortification, fortification and processing will be compared on their efficacy in improving iron and zinc intake and status. The effect of the improved staple foods on immunity and infection will be evaluated as well as the impact on cognitive development of young children.

The project aims to improve the quality of the staple foods (maize, millet and cassava) consumed in many rural areas of Africa. Although millet is actually the sixth most important crop in the world, it is still only grown by small, impoverished farmers. Three different strategic approaches will result in the production of foods with improved nutritional quality. First, varieties of the above crops that naturally contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals will be identified. These include a cassava variety with a natural higher level of vitamin A. Research will show whether consumption of this so-called 'yellow' cassava actually results in improved vitamin A status of children. Research will also determine the consumer acceptability of the yellow cassava as the colour differs from that to which they are accustomed.

As a second strategy, the benefits of enriching products made from staple foods with leafy vegetables will be studied. These include maize meal, a staple ingredient for many meals in Africa. The third strategy will investigate whether or not the levels of available iron, zinc or vitamin A can be improved with specific preparation methods. The project will also report on the safety of the strategies adopted, especially their effects on infection and immunity in children. The impact of the improved foods on the cognitive development of children will also be determined. The effect of iron and zinc supplementation on the cognitive development of children is known, the project will determine whether the uptake of these minerals from food can have a comparable effect.

Website of

Coordinator: Inge Brouwer,

Organisation: Division of Human Nutrition, Wageningen University, Netherlands,