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Micronutrient Research Programme (MNRP)

 

One in five South African children is stunted. One in ten is underweight. And according to a recent survey, child deaths are on the rise. These terrifying numbers point to a massive and underreported problem with nutrition in South Africa, says Professor John Taylor, Theme Leader for Nutritional Science at the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) Institute for Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing (IFNuW).

He says that micronutrients may be the key to addressing this national socioeconomic and health crisis. IFNuW has recently launched the Micronutrient Nutrition Research Programme, which aims to address micronutrient deficiencies through research to determine the major underlying causes of child malnutrition, and by developing practical solutions.

The Programme is working closely with communities to make sure that the research they are doing is actually addressing Africa and South Africa’s nutritional needs. “Our research places a strong emphasis on market pull - in the last year we’ve been canvassing farmers and entrepreneurs about what foods they want to produce, testing prototype products in the community, and asking people how much they would pay, to see whether our products really are small business opportunities,” says Taylor.

MNRP Projects:

Identifying vitamin D status

Identifying iron status

Zinc and the gut biome

 

Prof Taylor is investing his years of experience as an internationally-recognised cereal scientist into leading this innovation-orientated programme and mentoring a team of young, mostly female researchers who are finding ways to address iron, zinc and vitamin deficiencies in South African children. In particular, they are trying to improve how the body absorbs micronutrients (known as bioavailability), and ways to add locally-produced fruits and vegetables to processed foods. Every new product or formulation is tested by potential consumers.

Stunting occurs when children don’t get the right nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood, and is linked to lost IQ, decreased productivity and poor health in adulthood. “It’s not something that kids can recover from – it’s a life time penalty, a permanent handicap on the individual and on our economy,” Taylor warns. He hopes that the Programme will address this dangerous deficiency while stimulating economic growth by transferring results rapidly to society. “We run training courses where entrepreneurs in the rural food processing sector are being taught to make the products, as well as about other aspects like food safety and food hygiene.”

Between research, technology transfer and providing South Africa with reliable and unbiased knowledge about food and nutrition, the Micronutrient Nutrition Research Programme looks set to improve the health and wellbeing of South African citizens for years to come.

For more information, contact Prof John Taylor at [email protected] 

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Last edited by Sheryl HendriksEdit