Countries Endorse Biofortification at ICN2 in Rome

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Delegates at ICN2 in Rome, Italy, November 19-21, 2014. Photo: FAO

The recently concluded Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome, Italy, identified utrition-sensitive agriculture as one of the priorities in the quest to end global hunger and malnutrition by 2025. Delegates, including high-level representatives from Bangladesh, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Uganda highlighted biofortification among strategies to achieve that goal.Scaling up access to biofortified nutritious foods for more people globally has become a major objective of governments and organizations following the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, earlier this year.

A number of countries have already identified biofortification as a key component of their nutrition strategies, and others are taking the lead in developing biofortified crops. These crops are conventionally bred to be rich in micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, and zinc. More than two billion people globally still lack one or more of these essential micronutrients in their diets, increasing their risk of physical and cognitive impairment, and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Bangladesh, for example, has released the country’s first zinc-biofortified rice variety, and orange sweet potato has been developed and locally adapted by the International Potato Center, Bangladeshi Minister of Agriculture Matia Chowdhury revealed to ICN2 delegates. Both the leaves and the roots of orange sweet potato provide vitamin A, which is good for the eyes and helps the body fight disease, she noted. In Pakistan, the Government supports biofortified high-zinc wheat, said Rizwan Bashir Khan, Leader of the Pakistan delegation.

Many African countries, including Nigeria, have released biofortified nutritious crops to farmers. “Biofortification must be vigorously supported within the broader context of promoting a diversified and healthy food base for improved nutrition,” urged Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in his remarks at the conference. Noting that Nigeria has "taken a lead on policies for biofortification in Africa", Dr. Adesina estimated that 80 million Nigerians will have access to biofortified vitamin A cassava over the next four years.

Countries like Uganda, which have adopted biofortified crops, see expanding access to these crops as critical to addressing malnutrition. “Some agencies are promoting biofortified foods like beans, maize, rice, millet and orange sweet potatoes rich in micronutrients, but this is not on a large scale,” Uganda’s Minister of State for Health, Sarah Achieng Opendi, told ICN2 participants. “We need to embrace such tested and approved technologies and scale them up in our countries if we are to avert the issues of malnutrition, especially hidden hunger.”

Also expressing support for biofortification was the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, which launched its first technical brief at ICN2. The brief calls for agricultural policies that encourage “plant breeding research that improves the levels of nutrients in cereals and other staple crops, often called biofortification.”

ICN2, which brought together representatives from more than 170 governments as well as from civil society and business culminated in the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action. These conference outcomes commit world leaders to establish national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and transforming food systems to make nutritious diets available to all.

Rwandan Music Stars Unite to Promote Iron Beans

During the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, delegates saw firsthand iron beans growing in the field.  Released by the Rwandan Government in 2011, these nutritious varieties of Rwanda’s favorite staple food are currently being planted by more than 700,000 farmers across the country. Now, a campaign utilizing the power of popular music expects to get even more Rwandans planting and eating iron beans. Five of the country’s top musicians joined hands to release a catchy music video featuring iron beans to promote better nutrition and health. Click here to learn more about the campaign.

Music video with Kiswahili subtitles: http://bit.ly/EatHealthyBeansSwahili  and www.swahiliwood.com/maharagwe

Out Now: Second Global Biofortification Conference Report

The final report of the Second Global Conference on Biofortification, which was held in Rwanda earlier this year, is now available. Themed “Getting Nutritious Foods to People”, this global consultation brought together some 300 high-level participants drawn from government, business and the private sector. The conference report highlights key outcomes, including progress and lessons learned in developing and delivering biofortified nutritious crops, and partnerships and commitments in scaling up biofortification. Also available now is The Kigali Declaration, a major outcome of the conference, reflecting the priorities and commitments of international leaders to end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetime.

New Progress Briefs on Biofortification

HarvestPlus has released a set of briefs on progress to date in biofortification. These briefs present: the status of crop development; evidence on nutrition, consumer acceptance, and cost-effectiveness; and, crop delivery experiences. Readers interested in learning more about these topics can follow the references to journal articles and working papers that underpin many of the briefs.

“Anybody who is interested in biofortification will appreciate how useful and timely the progress briefs are,” says HarvestPlus Director Howarth Bouis. “Whether you are a researcher or a practitioner, these briefs will bring you up to speed on evidence, accomplishments and challenges associated with biofortification.”

The progress briefs update the "Ideas Lab Briefs" that were very well received at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, earlier this year. They should be of interest to a variety of audiences, and can be accessed here.

Global Panel Discusses Collaboration to Reach More People with Nutritious Foods

At the recently concluded Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, a panel of eminent stakeholders deliberated on how to scale up the delivery of biofortified nutritious foods in order to improve nutrition and health for millions more people around the world. The session was convened by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte moderated the discussion. The panelist were:

Dr. Akin Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for Nigeria;
Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister of Health for Rwanda;
Dr. Ruben Echeverria, the Director-General of CIAT;
Jonathan Shrier, the Acting Special Representative for Global Food Security at the US State Department;
Tim Wheeler, the Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor at the UK Department for International Development (DfID).

 

Biofortified Nutritious Crops to Feature at Major Micronutrient Conference

HarvestPlus will be participating at a major nutrition conference to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from June 2-6.  The Micronutrient Forum Global Conference 2014 is themed “Bridging Discovery and Delivery and aims to create linkages and shared responsibility among various stakeholders, including from the nutrition, health, agriculture, social protection and food security sectors.

According to Erick Boy, Head of Nutrition at HarvestPlus, “this conference comes on the heels of the highly successful Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, which engaged high-level policymakers, business and private sector partners on expanding the delivery of biofortified nutritious crops. The Micronutrient Forum global conference is a great opportunity for us to build on the momentum generated in Kigali and to further spread the message about biofortification’s potential to contribute to alleviating hidden hunger among the most affected populations of the world.”

At the conference, HarvestPlus will host a symposium during which we will share more detailed evidence on biofortified nutritious crops. Symposium attendees will also learn how plant breeders can increase micronutrient density of these food crops without sacrificing yield. Additionally, practitioners will share their experience in disseminating and promoting these crops to farmers and consumers in Uganda to improve nutrition and public health. More than one-and-a-half million farmers in Africa and South Asia are already growing and eating these nutritious crop varieties.

HarvestPlus will also have a booth and a team of experts on hand to answer questions.

HarvestPlus is a founding partner of the Micronutrient Forum.

EVENT: Micronutrient Forum Global Conference 2014

DATE: June 2-6, 2014

LOCATION: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

*HarvestPlus-sponsored symposium on June 2: “From evidence to action – scaling up biofortified crops for nutritional impact.” (14:00 – 15:30, Room CR 3)

You may access the HarvestPlus symposium agenda here and the complete conference program on the conference website.

 

Global Consultation on Nutritious Foods Closes with Commitments from Major Stakeholders

Panel Discussion_Day3Today in Kigali, participants at the global consultation on “Getting Nutritious Foods to People” explored how to increase access to, and impact of, nutritious crops globally. The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition hosted a discussion moderated by Rachel Kyte, the World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, which highlighted quality research, continued investment, capacity building, gender sensitivity, and multi-stakeholder engagement as crucial factors for achieving that goal. The panel consisted of: Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; Dr. Agnes Binagwahol, Rwanda’s Minister of Health; Ruben Echeverria, the Director General of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); Jonathan Shrier, the Special Representative for Global Food Security at the US State Department; and, Tim Wheeler, the Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor at the UK Department for International Development (DfID).

“It is gratifying that this important consultation has attracted such a stellar cast of experts,” said Howarth Bouis, the Director of HarvestPlus. “We are confident that a momentum has been created in the effort to develop and deliver nutritious food crops to millions of people around the world.”

Several of the over 140 organizations represented at the conference made commitments in support of scaling up and mainstreaming biofortification in programs, policies and marketing.

While closing the conference, Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Dr. Agnes Kalibata pledged that biofortification would be central to the Government of Rwanda’s fight against malnutrition. HarvestPlus, which convened this global consultation, hosted with the Government of Rwanda, committed to demonstrating scale up and cost-effectiveness in its nine target countries. Dr. Bouis pledged a third biofortification conference in three years’ time to review progress in getting nutritious foods to more people around the world.

 

“Biofortification One of the Best Ways to Spend Public Money”

In a video address to participants at the Global Consultation on ‘Getting Nutritious Foods to People’, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center said that “biofortification is one of the best ways to spend public money.” Biofortification has been on the radar of the Consensus - made up of a panel of distinguished economists - since 2008.   In 2012, addressing micronutrient malnutrition remained at the top of their list; as the challenge that would yield the highest return on investment of public funds.

Biofortification is a strategy of developing more nutritious food crops that can provide valuable vitamins and minerals through the diet. Many crops that are rich in critical nutrients are now available to farmers around the world and offer a new approach to improving people’s health. Every $1 invested in biofortification yields about $17 “of good in the world,” said Lomborg. Watch the full video below.

Nigeria Determined to be Largest Producer of Nutritious Crops, Says Dr. Adesina

Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, yesterday highlighted the disconnect between rising global wealth and persistent poverty - an underlying cause of poor nutrition. “People eat food, not GDP (Gross Domestic Product),” he emphasized in a rousing keynote address at the end of Day Two of the "Global Consultation on Getting Nutritious Foods to People." Globally recognized for his efforts in improving African agriculture through innovative technology, Dr. Adesina pledged his determination to “make Nigeria the largest grower of biofortified crops.” Watch the short video below for highlights of his speech:

Is the Era of “Biohappiness” Upon Us?

Swaminathan1A Report from Day Two of the Global Consultation on "Getting Nutritious Foods to People". Agriculture-based innovations such as the development of nutrient-rich crops through biofortification will be critical if the goal of eradicating hunger is to be met. This was the central message in Dr. M.S. Swaminathan’s keynote address on Day Two of the Second Global Conference on Biofortification.  Biofortification, noted the renowned agricultural scientist, addresses all three major dimensions of hunger - caloric, protein, and vitamin/mineral deficiencies - and can be a key strategy within the overall framework of the UN’s Zero Hunger Challenge. Among other goals, the Zero Hunger Challenge envisions a world where universal access to adequate food is guaranteed, and where child stunting due to poor nutrition is eradicated. Given its current success and its promising prospects, noted Dr. Swaminathan, biofortification will be important in achieving those goals.

But developing nutritious crops is only half the job; making sure that these crops get adopted by farmers and eaten widely by people is just as critical to achieving the nutrition and public health outcomes expected from biofortification. Participants at a panel discussion moderated by respected journalist and award winning author Roger Thurow shared their experiences in developing or delivering nutritious crops. They also identified challenges, ranging from poor policy engagement to weak markets. But fewer challenges, noted some of the panelists, are likely to be as critical to the ultimate success of biofortification as that of reversing a growing trend among the younger generation: the unattractiveness of agriculture as a career or livelihood option. HarvestPlus and its partners will have to find ways to counter this trend, including through vigorous promotion of biofortification’s commercial benefits.

Joanne NkuliyeTestimony from a Rwandan farmer who has adopted iron beans provides grounds for hope that this can be achieved. Joane Nkuliye, who started planting iron beans in 2010, referred to these varieties as “miraculous”, highlighting the impact they have had on her life. Due to their higher yields compared to ordinary varities, iron beans have allowed Joane to harvest double from the same 25-hectare land that she had before she adopted them. Now she is able to sell more in the market and earn enough to employ 30 people. "Iron beans have made us love agriculture again,” she said. “Now we are millionaires and people are beginning to look up to us, ” she added jokingly.

Perhaps the era of “biohappiness”, a dream of Dr. Swaminathan’s, is upon us.

View photos from Day Two of the conference, and follow Day Three proceedings online via live webcast.