In a bid to improve the nutritional well-being of school-age children, a Food Technologist with the University's Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research (IFSERAR), Dr. Abiodun Adeola, has developed an enriched biscuit that is rich in protein and micro-nutrients, which are essential for their growth.
According to him, "my research is a Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) Project and the reason why we embarked on the research was to improve the nutritional well-being of school- age children using enriched biscuit. Biscuit, as we all know, is a common snack for all ages but it is more prominent among the school-age children. But most of the commercially-available biscuits, especially those that are within the reach of an average school child in Nigeria are poor nutritionally, in the sense that they are mainly high in energy with little or no other nutrients that are essential for their growth, and that is what our research targets".
Speaking on the process through which the research was conducted and the key ingredients therein, the Food Technologist said that at the outset of the project, the principle of innovation platform was adopted, whereby stakeholders and beneficiaries, who are mainly mothers of these school children were carried along so that the research could be something that was jointly acceptable and for the benefit of all parties involved. "We had to involve the beneficiaries, which are the mothers of these school children, in order to jointly agree on the need for this project and also to select the right or appropriate material that they could easily get", he said.
Dr. Adeola disclosed that the crops that were finally selected were potato, unripe cooking banana and a legume called pigeon pea. According to him, ‘pigeon pea is known to be rich in protein but is an underutilized legume, so utilizing it in this project was a way of finding good use for it’. He noted that all the selected crops could easily be gotten, adding that in the long term, the research knowledge was something that the project intends to transfer to the beneficiaries although not explicitly stated in the project.
Explaining further, the researcher stated that "we want the biscuit to become a standard when biscuit is talked about in the country among school-age children. So, we just felt that we should look at some local materials that we would use to produce biscuits that would be nutritious and at the same time, be within the economic reach of an average school child in Nigeria. The focus is on children because we felt that children are the future of Nigeria and one of the ways that we can correct most malnutrition cases that we have is to tackle it early because research and common knowledge have shown that “we are what we eat”. “So, whatever we eat now will eventually make or mar us in terms of nutritional well-being in the future. So, based on this fact, we felt that we should look into school-age children so that we will be able to reduce the incidence of most of these malnutrition cases we observe in later years as they grow up". He added that there was already a standard recipe for the biscuit.
Responding to the possibility of having the biscuit commercially-produced, Dr. Adeola said when looking at the commercialization of the project or any project on food, a lot of stages were involved and presently, the project was at developing a process technology for the production of the biscuit and thereafter, the other stages could be looked into but noted that this was not included in the project. Speaking on the specific dietary need the biscuit would be addressing, the University Don said primarily, the product was targeting the vitamins, minerals and protein needs of the school-age children because they need them while growing up in addition to the energy-giving nutrients that they get for other biscuit brands.
Speaking on the nutrition of Nigerians and the school- age children, Dr. Adeola said "our nutrition has not been adequate, especially among the school children because what they eat mostly could be referred to as junks and this is because the things that are readily available to these school children are mainly things like sweets and a few kinds of biscuits that are filled with sugar. This is also obtainable for the adults as they have not been taking the right diet, at the right quantity and at the right time, and mind you, whatever we might be saying that is adequate will depend on the age group. So, most of us don't realize that for specific age we have specific needs but most of us still want to continue to eat the way we had been eating in the past and these are some of the things that create problems for us. We are supposed to know that as we advance in age, in terms of quantity, this is the quantity I am supposed to take, in terms of the nutrient, these are the categories of nutrient that we are supposed to take. So, most of it, as we would see, is as a result of not being aware of what we are supposed to take and it is a major problem but by the time we have that awareness, we would be able to take the right diet that would be suitable for our age".
Shedding light on another project being handled by him, the West African Agricultural Productivity Project (WAAPP) on nutrition, Dr. Adeola said the project was mainly to develop a complementary food, which the common man calls weaning food for children, adding that the idea came from the fact that during the period when children were being weaned, there were problems because of the transition from the breast milk to real food. The Food Technologist, also noted that there was no point feeding a child beyond a certain age with breast milk, because apart from the depletion in the maternal supply of milk, there would also be an increase in need by the baby. Many commercially available complementary foods are more or less very expensive and beyond the reach of the common man.
According to Dr. Adeola, the project involved not only FUNAAB, but two other research institutes namely the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and that he was the Principal Investigator on the project. He pointed out that on the part of the University, a process technology had been developed for the complementary food, which basically makes use of yellow fleshed cassava, sorghum, pigeon pea and soybeans. The Food Technologists said the other part of the work being handled by FIIRO was the biological evaluation of the complementary food while the next stage would be to go to the field because the project entailed technology dissemination and that would be done as soon as the next tranche of fund was received from WAAPP.
Dr. Adeola, who stated that the first stage of assessing the acceptability of the product had been done by using mothers within the University community, noted that it was well accepted but added that a more comprehensive assessment would be done on the field so as to expand the acceptability of the product while a follow-up would also be done to determine how well the research has been adopted and what challenge, if any, was being experienced. He said, "the product targets the micro-nutrient and protein intake of children thereby helping in the alleviation of protein malnutrition in Nigeria because this is a big problem among the children".
On research activities in the country, Dr. Adeola stated that, a lot of researches were being done in the country but there was the need for the researches to be developmental as most researches just lie on the shelf or journals. He called on the government and other relevant stakeholders to fund researches and see how these researches can be commercialized so that Nigeria would be able to stand out in terms of development.