Improving nutrition through biofortification

Improving nutrition through biofortification

HarvestPlus strives to tackle hidden hunger by breeding vitamins and minerals into everyday food crops

Published on February 9, 2021 at 5:59 am

Updated on March 8, 2021 at 10:52 am

Biofortified food crops are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus improves nutrition and public health by developing and promoting biofortified food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and providing global leadership on biofortification evidence and technology. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and is based at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Scaling up biofortified crops: A cost-effective sustainable solution for improving human nutrition

In 2015, 193 nations adopted at the UN Summit, 17 Goals of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of 2030. These goals are ambitious and comprehensive to achieve development that is equitable, inclusive, and environment friendly. Sustainable Development Goal-2 (SDG 2) aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Nutrition is probably one of the only indicators that bind together all the 17 SDGs. An estimated two billion people do not get enough micronutrients in their daily diets, leading to a severe insidious impact on health. According to the recently published National Health Family Survey-5 (NHFS-5, 2019-20), results show worrying nutritional status regarding the prevalence of stunting and wasting among children. Some reports put the economic cost of micronutrient deficiency at $15-46 billion in the country. Staple foods form an important part of the resource-poor population’s daily diet. Staples do not provide most of the key micronutrients required for healthy living. A cost-effective, diverse diet rich in micronutrients is still a challenge to many of the resource-poor population.

Biofortification enhances micronutrients in the staple food crops that people consume daily, developed by conventional breeding methods. They have all the traits that the farmers desire to grow, high yield, disease resistance, and a measurable health impact on the populations when eaten daily. The advantages of biofortification are that it starts in rural areas; it is cost-effective and sustainable. The focus of the program is on three micronutrients, iron, zinc, and vitamin-A, that are considered limiting in the diets of the resource-poor population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Biofortification has the potential to complement the existing interventions like fortification and supplementation to create far more impact. Biofortification was ranked fifth by the expert panel at the Copenhagen Consensus 2008.

On the occasion of World Food Day, 16th October 2020, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi dedicated biofortified crops to the nation. Prime Minister also stressed the plans to incorporate biofortified crops in the existing food and nutrition program (Mid-day Meal, PDS, ICDS, etc.), which can enhance the nutritional component of the food programs. These Agriculture-Nutrition linkages can create demand and incentivize farmers to increase the adoption of biofortified crops. Enabling policies to incentivize farmers to adopt biofortified crops will create supply and household consumption. Policies to incorporate biofortified crops in the large food and nutrition programs will help create a long-term sustainable demand for nutritious crops.

Biofortified crops improve farmers’ livelihoods.

Iron pearl millet nutrition study has established an improvement of iron status (serum ferritin & TBI) after 4-months, reduction of iron deficiency by 6-months. Studies have found that it improves cognitive functions and higher perception abilities, attention, and memory functions and improves physical activity. The published zinc wheat nutrition study establishes that children who ate the high-zinc wheat—as chapatti or puri flatbread or as porridge—experienced 17 per cent fewer days with pneumonia and 39 per cent fewer days of vomiting to children who consumed a lower zinc variety typical of conventional wheat. Mothers who ate high-zinc wheat spent 9 per cent fewer days with fever.

Public and private investments in developing supply chains can help in creating long-term sustainable markets for biofortified crops. Innovative Agri-Food partnerships will further help develop a wider reach of biofortified seeds and foods to the target communities and consumers.


HarvestPlus has developed partnerships with CGIAR centers- ICRISAT, CIMMYT, IRRI, ICARDA; ICAR, SAUs, Seed Companies, FPO’s and NGO’s for product development and dissemination. The focus of India’s program is on zinc-rich wheat, zinc-rich rice, and iron-rich pearl millet that are major staples for millions. Seven hybrids, one variety of iron-rich pearl millet, and four zinc-rich wheat varieties have been developed in the partnership program. Iron-rich pearl millet is grown in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Karnataka. Zinc-rich wheat is grown in UP, Bihar, and Punjab.

HarvestPlus has a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to track the key indicators to evaluate the impact on the people who are growing, consuming biofortified crops, and measuring the program’s efficiency.

Replicability and Scalability

More than 50 million people benefit from biofortified crops in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In India, more than 1 million people benefit from consuming iron pearl millet and zinc wheat in the state of UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Rajasthan.

Binu Cherian

“Biofortified crops can play a significant role in developing sustainable food systems that are nutritious and healthy, making available key micronutrients to the people cost-effective and grown locally. Agri-Food partnerships will help scale up biofortified crops further and develop supply chain linkages to connect market places.” Binu Cherian, Country Manager, HarvestPlus India



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