Biofortification drive to reach 1bn dependent on consumer demand: Review

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Only through a collaborative effort that reaches across the value chain will biofortification achieve the vision of reaching one billion people. ©iStock
Only through a collaborative effort that reaches across the value chain will biofortification achieve the vision of reaching one billion people. ©iStock
Mainstreaming biofortification into plant breeding programs, integrating it into policies, programs and investments, and building consumer demand are needed to benefit one billion people by 2030.

These recommendations were set out in a paper that acknowledges that the building blocks are in place but institutional leadership was needed to continue the drive towards this goal.

“Policymakers must give higher priority to the role of agriculture to improve health,”​ the paper’s author’s stated.

“National governments and institutions must ensure that biofortification is included on the nutrition agenda. Public and private sector breeding partners must mainstream the biofortified trait across their product lines. Food processors and other actors along the value chain must include biofortified crops in their products.”

The urgency to do more comes at a time where biofortified produce is only reaching a fraction of the people who need it.

As of the end of 2016, HarvestPlus, a global alliance of research institutions and agencies involved the biofortification effort estimated that around 20 million people in four million farming households are now growing and consuming biofortified crops.

These households are mainly located in eight target countries that include Bangladesh, DR Congo, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia.

Here, the biofortifiation of crops with micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A and zinc in plants such as beans and iron pearl millet, wheat and rice are yielding small but significant improvements in subjects across a wider demographic.

Other crops monitored by this review include yellow cassava, orange maize and sweet potato.

Award winning author

An African National Park
'Biofortification is cost-effective in Africa as well. Relative to other interventions, the only instances where biofortification may not enjoy a comparative advantage are in Latin America.' ©iStock

This paper, authored by 2016 World Food Prize winner, Howarth Bouis and Amy Saltzman from the International Food Policy Research Institute, reviews the progress made under the HarvestPlus program.

This review also summaries key evidence and discusses delivery experiences, as well as farmer and consumer adoption and plans to move beyond target countries to partnership country strategies.

“HarvestPlus now works closely with government-sponsored biofortification programs in Brazil, China, and India. Through the HarvestPlus program, technical assistance and support in Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Panama is provided​,” the review outlined.

“As biofortification gains momentum, this type of partnership approach is essential. While HarvestPlus will continue to provide assistance and promote linkages, other organisations and actors will increasingly take the lead in delivery on the ground.”

Biofortification is the primary response to the micronutrient deficiencies that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says afflict more than two billion individuals, or one in three people, globally.

It is considered one of the most effective methods of addressing micronutrient deficiency on a mass scale, complementing existing interventions, such as supplementation and industrial food fortification

Cost-effectiveness scrutiny

Financially, results of cost-effectiveness studies​ have shown that for each of the country-crop-micronutrient combinations considered, biofortification is a cost-effective intervention based on cost per Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) saved.

In addition, the Copenhagen Consensus​ ranked biofortification, among the highest value-for-money investments for economic development. For every dollar invested in biofortification, as much as $17 (€16) of benefits may be gained, the report stated.

“In South Asia, biofortification enjoys a clear advantage,”​ the review concluded. “This is reasonable, given both that the populations in South Asian countries are largely rural, and that seed distribution systems function relatively well in this part of the world.”

“Biofortification is cost-effective in Africa as well. Relative to other interventions, the only instances where biofortification may not enjoy a comparative advantage are in Latin America.”

Source: Global Food Security

Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2017.01.009

‘Improving nutrition through biofortification: A review of evidence from HarvestPlus, 2003 through 2016.’

Authors: Howarth Bouis and Amy Saltzman

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