After decades of work, USDA scientists have developed a variety of sorghum to address malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Children's Nutrition Research Center, part of USDA's Agricultural Research Service, has been working to increase provitamin A carotenoids in sorghum, a standard part of the diet in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a news release, the new variety also more effectively absorbs minerals to meet nutritional needs of mothers and children. 

"This research has important implications for people living in sub-Saharan Africa, where sorghum is a culturally significant staple crop and it’s often eaten as a porridge, and is a primary source of dietary carbohydrates,” said Michael Dzakovich, a researcher with USDA-ARS.

“As a result, mothers and children in sub-Saharan Africa disproportionately suffer from chronic diseases related to insufficient vitamin A, iron, and zinc intake."

Conventional sorghum is high in protein, fiber, B vitamins and others, but it lacks sufficient levels of vitamin A, says USDA. Additionally, it contains a natural acid that inhibits absorption of important minerals like zinc and iron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that vitamin A deficiency in children could lead to blindness or fatal infections.

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USDA experts have been trying to address these shortcomings for 20 years. The research was a collaboration among scientists from USDA-ARS, the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, North Carolina State University, and Corteva Agriscience.

“Our findings indicate that porridges made from the lines we developed are capable of delivering 32 times more provitamin A carotenoids than typical sorghum varieties while also providing minerals like zinc and iron,” said Dzakovich. “A child between the ages of four and eight may easily meet their daily vitamin A requirements with just a couple servings of porridge made from these biofortified lines.”

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