/ 11 September 2008

SA okays sorghum trials to improve nutrition in Africa

The South African government on Thursday approved trials on genetically-modified sorghum in a bid to improve nutrition in Africa, an official statement said.

The official nod to undertake the greenhouse trials on sorghum was given to South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), one of the key scientific agencies in an international research project to enhance the nutritional values of sorghum, the CSIR text said.

Sorghum is an African crop and staple food of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

While it is one of the few crops that grow well in arid parts, it is lacking in most essential nutrients and it has poor protein digestibility, the statement said.

Scientific evidence shows that deficiencies in essential micronutrients — such as iron, zinc, Vitamin A and others — can cause impaired immune systems, blindness, low birth weight, impaired neuropsychological development and growth stunting, it said.

Malnutrition is a major cause of the rise in the many non-communicable diseases, especially in Africa.

The Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project — which involves seven African and two United States organisations — seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of essential amino acids, especially lysine, increased levels of Vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc.

The CSIR Biosciences executive director, Gatsha Mazithulela, said the project approval “is in the best interest of scientific inquiry and provides a basis for making a difference to the neediest people of our continent”. – AFP