Banana 21 is a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to combat micronutrient deficiency in Uganda. The project aims to increase the biofortification of bananas. Bananas are one of the staple foods of the world, but they lack essential vitamins. According to the World Health Organization, micronutrient deficiencies are one of the biggest problems in the developing world.
In Uganda, over one third of women and children are vitamin A deficient. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. It also weakens the immune system, making children more susceptible to an early death from common illnesses or infectious diseases.
Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in areas where starches are the main source of calories. Foods like cooked bananas, maize and rice lack important vitamins and minerals. Developing countries have fewer resources to harvest diverse foods. More nutritious items like fruits and eggs are often too expensive to purchase or difficult to come by.
According to the World Bank, Uganda loses $145 million to vitamin and mineral deficiencies every year. These deficiencies increase the strain on the health care system, and the patients’ lost productivity also costs the nation heavily.
One of the Grand Challenges in Global Health is to decrease micronutrient deficiencies in Uganda. In 2005, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded Australian university scientists and national Uganda researchers to add Vitamin A to Uganda’s staple food. The Banana 21 Project is also a part of Bill and Melinda Gate’s Global Development Program.
Through modern biotechnology, Banana 21 develops varieties of Uganda’s East African highland cooking bananas with high levels of pro-Vitamin A. Banana 21 plans to complete research by 2021. Uganda must first review and authorize the new banana varieties before production begins.
Banana 21 is also working on projects to aid disease control and improve drought tolerance.
In Uganda, bananas serve as an important part of nation’s diet. They are perennial crops and can endure long dry periods where others may wither completely. As rainfall becomes more unpredictable due to climate change, ensuring that they can successfully remain a significant source of food is essential to Uganda’s future food security.
Uganda has experienced significant economic progress and poverty reduction in recent years. Consequently, addressing malnutrition through the development of agriculture is a crucial step forward.
It is important to add nutrients to an already widely grown, eaten and valued food. Increasing the level of nutrients in bananas is crucial to increasing the health of women and children in East Africa.
– Erica Rawles