In 2011, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) announced the successful hybridisation and selective breeding for 3 new yellow varieties of cassava biofortified with vitamin A. Although by 2013, more than 25,000 households produced these biofortified varieties of yellow cassava, there is a long road between breeding and adoption, especially for crops that may look or taste different than local, more familiar, varieties. Improving and accelerating consumer acceptance of biofortified crops is therefore a major concern for breeders.
A study carried out in the Kibwezi district of Eastern Province in Kenya tested both children between the ages of 6 and 12 and their primary care-giver (who was usually the mother, but in some cases was the father, grandparent or other adult), to establish attitudes towards switching to vitamin-A biofortified yellow-fleshed cassava. Subjects reported a significant difference in taste between the local white variety and yellow cassava. However, both groups preferred the yellow cassava because of its soft texture, sweet taste and attractive colour. Indeed, more than 70% of subjects reported a preference for the yellow cassava.
Knowledge about vitamin A-rich cassava and its relation to health was a strong predictor of ‘health behaviour identity’ or the notion that the new variety is good to eat. Worries included bitter taste and colour and the care-givers’ beliefs related to having control over preparing cassava. Information sessions about vitamin A enriched cassava and recommendations from health workers were the best predictors of intention to consume new varieties. Whilst the study concluded that vitamin A-rich cassava is well accepted by school children, adoption rates could be improved by 1) reducing barriers such as worries about colour or taste; 2) increasing knowledge on the benefits of eating vitamin A cassava; 3) empowering care-givers to control decisions on what they cook; and 4) involving health workers in the promotion of the new cassava varieties.
Research into the efficacy of yellow cassava in Kenya to improve vitamin A levels is due to be published in 2015. However, a HarvestPlus study on yellow cassava in Nigeria showed that the biofortified crop could provide up to 25% of the recommended amount of vitamin A for women and children. HarvestPlus aims to continue to improve the crop until it can provide more than 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A.