Biofortification: An Agricultural Investment for Nutrition

The Global Panel published a policy brief which emphasises the role micronutrients play in eradicating non-communicable food related diseases, and describes how biofortification positively affects the nutritional status of vulnerable populations. The brief also highlights the policy opportunities in agriculture and food systems to improve diet quality and nutrition.

Biofortification

“Policy makers have a key role to play in tackling hidden hunger” says Sir John Beddington, co-chair of the Global Panel. “Thanks to an innovative approach called biofortification, micronutrients can be provided to millions of people in the food they eat every day. Biofortification complements the existing mix of micronutrient interventions available to governments.”

Biofortification offers a way to reach poor consumers who have difficulty in accessing micronutrient-rich diets, food supplements or conventionally fortified processed foods.

The issue

Roughly one third of the world’s population suffers dietary deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, compromising their health and impairing their productivity. Especially poor rural populations in low and middle-income countries suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (or ‘hidden hunger’). Their low incomes and limited access to food leads to a monotonous nutritionally inadequate diets.

Micronutrient malnutrition is also associated with rapidly growing problem of obesity and non-communicable diseases. Low quality diets based heavily on highly processed, nutrient-poor foods lie at the core of the problem.

Why is biofortification worth discussing 

In biofortification, conventional crop breeding techniques are used to identify varieties with particular high concentration of desired nutrients. These are then cross-bred with high-yielding varieties to develop biofortified varieties that have high levels of, for instance, zinc or betacarotene, in addition to other productivity traits desired by farmers.

When biofortified crops are combined with interventions that promote dietary diversification, real progress can be made to benefit millions of households. In Nigeria for instance, with the strengthened regulatory and legal framework and infrastructural support, Nigerian multiplication programmes are expected to allow 80 million Nigerians to have access to more nutritious diets in the coming 4 years.

The Policy Brief

The Global Panel policy brief: Biofortification: An Agricultural Investment for Nutrition lays out the technical evidence and arguments for supporting biofortification as one element of a nutrient-sensitive national agricultural research and investment strategy. The brief argues that, instead of it being an alternative to other nutrition-enhancing interventions, policy makers should consider biofortification as one component of a suite of complementary strategies to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.

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