January 29, 2018

30/01/2018: The biofortification movement for better crops and nutrition

Hidden Hunger: an invisible threat with devastating consequences

by Victor Taleon, HarvestPlus

The threat of famine has made headlines in recent months, and these crises understandably focus the world’s attention on the need for a strong humanitarian response

What rarely makes headlines is this startling statistic: the diets of more than two billion people worldwide lack the essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary to prevent disease, disability, and even death.

This pandemic of micronutrient deficiency is known as “hidden hunger”, and it’s called that because the essence of the problem is often overlooked and also because some of the people who are affected may technically have “enough” food on their plates, but that food is not necessarily nutritious.

Several important interventions already exist to combat this problem, such as vitamin and mineral supplements and commercial fortification of processed foods, for example, adding vitamin A to refined sugar or iodine to table salt.

However, many smallholder farmers in developing countries have limited access to these solutions, as they are costly and not part of the typical diet in rural communities.

A breakthrough process known as biofortification, where crops are bred to contain higher levels of essential micronutrients, has revolutionised what crops farmers grow and eat in rural communities, and is even reaching urban consumers in increasing numbers. Beyond the inherent benefits that biofortified crops offer consumers, it may be a surprise to learn that processes in the milling of biofortified cereals also represent an important piece of the puzzle to find a solution for hidden hunger.

The kernel of an idea whose time has come

In the early 1990s, an economist at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Dr Howarth “Howdy” Bouis, came up with an idea that seemed too good to be true: solving micronutrient deficiency by getting the plants to do the work – that is, to use conventional crop breeding techniques to enhance their vitamin and mineral content.

This concept, which soon became known as biofortification, was initially greeted with skepticism. Would yields decrease from the stress of having to take up these nutrients, which would make this idea a non-starter? Could plant breeding actually improve nutrition? Would farmers grow and eat these crops, especially those that turn yellow or orange from the carotenoids, precursors of vitamin A?

It took Dr Bouis a decade to convince the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several government donors to invest significant resources to breed, test, and deliver these crops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He founded HarvestPlus, which is coordinated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in 2003.

Read the full article, HERE.

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine Milling and Grain
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.

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