Biofortification: Proposed Framework for Action

The First Global Conference on Biofortification drew attention to the substantial progress made  in (i) breeding high-yielding, high-nutrient crops and (ii) establishing the bioavailability and efficacy of vitamins and minerals in high-nutrient lines.

However, key issues remain in establishing biofortification as a sustainable strategy to reduce malnutrition.  In the following framework, eight broad categories for investment are proposed. Are these broad categories correct?  What is the priority for investments across these categories over the next 3-5 years? What are priorities for investments in sub-activities within each of these categories?

This draft framework and key issues that emerged from the conference are being circulated for your comment. Please use the 'Leave a Reply' box below to share your thoughts by December 15. Note that comments left here will be visible to all and we hope to get a good discussion going.   Based on comments received a paper will be prepared by HarvestPlus outlining the way forward over the next three to five years.  We may also commission additional papers to review the available evidence and discuss specific issues within each category.

We value your input and look forward to productive interdisciplinary collaboration in our efforts to promote biofortification as sustainable cost-effective strategy to improve nutrition and public health.

Note: deadline extended..please continue to share comments on framework until further notice.

If you have any difficulty in downloading this document please try a different browser or a different computer. We have tested it and it does work. If you're still having difficulty then please send an email to biofortconf 'at' cgiar.org

Biofortification Conference Participants ShareTheir Thoughts…

We asked conference participants what they thought of the conference, both during and after the event. Here's what some of them had to say...

Bloggers on Biofortification

H+ conference22

Blogs are now a mainstay of online media. The conference has its share of bloggers, who  not only provided thoughtful commentary on what they heard last week, but are keeping the discussion going.  We share a few of them here with you.

Roger Thurow of the Chicago Council , moderated the conference. After 2.5 days of carefully listening to all  speakers he observes in his Global Food for Thought blog:
"It was confounding to hear that this link between agriculture and nutrition has so long been missing – confounding because food production and nutrition seem to be a natural combination, essential allies in the war on hunger.  But the two have often been treated as separate academic and practical disciplines.  Nutrition has been seen as a health problem and food production as a matter for agriculture."

The biofortification strategy helps bridges this gap but "why do the rest of us know so little about this stuff?,' writes Jocelyn Zuckerman for 'The Atlantic.' Part of the reason is because malnutrition doesn't have anything exciting going on to propel it to the front page of the news. "Malnutrition, like climate change, is a slow drip," she writes.

Nourishing the Planet from the World Watch Institute helped increase the flow of information, by explaining biofortification to its 4,000 monthly visitors interested in food, hunger and the environment, many of whom will be hearing about this for the first time.

Turning to experts in  the field of international development, in his blog (Development Horizons) Lawrence Haddad, who presented a paper at the conference cautions: " Make sure that there are enough positive nutrition impacts before attempting to deliver these crops in real world contexts. Everything hinges on these studies. Succeed and they will create momentum. Fail and they will force a re-think."

But will this alone convince policymakers and donors enough to create momentum, and  move biofortification forward? Nabeeha Kazi in The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, notes that we sometimes makes assumptions that can "impede progress," such as "if you have evidence and data that show positive results, leaders will apply the data and evidence into field work." At the other end of the spectrum,  she says that we need to get beneficiaries at the community level involved: "Convert "beneficiaries" - especially mothers, grandmothers and mother-in-laws - into powerful advocates and agents for change...We can't afford these innovations to lay dormant simply because we didn't bring the communities that matter up that readiness ladder."

Standing back from all the details for a moment, Anastasia Bodnar, a doctoral candidate, notes on the Biofortified blog: "It’s about equity, fairness. A child growing up in rural India or Uganda deserves a chance for healthy brain and body development just as much as a child growing up in Washington, DC or Ames, Iowa. It’s only fair."

See other media coverage on the First Global Biofortification Conference.

Don't have a blog? Please share your thoughts by clicking on 'leave a comment' below!

After the Biofortification Conference–participants share their thoughts

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, conference participants got a chance to relax when the First Global Conference on Biofortification was over after almost three days of presentations and vigorous discussion. We caught the mood of the moment with our flip camera....

" What insights are you leaving the conference with?"
Marilia Nuti (Embrapa) Arun Joshi (CIMMYT) and Anastasia Bodnar (Iowa State University) share their thoughts....

What insights do you leave with? Please leave a comment below!

Day Three in Pictures

Biofortification Conference Gets Media Attention

The First Global Conference on Biofortification is officially over and conference attendees have pledged to carry forth their efforts to continue promoting biofortification in the fight against malnutrition as they return home to their respective countries and programs. Conference organizers, meanwhile, are hopeful that some of the buzz generated around biofortification continues to grow.

Two new articles published this week on IRIN Africa News and the McClatchy Newspaper service highlight the biofortification approach being led by HarvestPlus in collaboration with various research partners and foreign governments in target countries. The IRIN News article covers biofortified maize efforts in Zambia, a collaborative project between the government's Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), which is collaborating with HarvestPlus. The article states that "(a)fter three years of work - identifying maize varieties with high beta-carotene content and then cross-breeding them to increase the content naturally - the scientists appear to have been successful." The McClatchy piece, meanwhile, focuses on the success of the orange sweet potato in Mozambique and Uganda, the first HarvestPlus food to go to marketplace. The article includes a quote from HarvestPlus Director Howdy Bouis who states, "We've made all this scientific progress. The next step is demonstrate that the food will get used and then scale up."

In addition to the news media, we would like to give special recognition those who are helping to spread the seeds of biofortification in the social media. Nabeeha Kazi Hutchins, Managing Director of Humanitas Global Development, recently wrote a blog article in which she shares her impressions while attending the conference and we hope that other conference attendees will follow. The conference also had a highly active following on Twitter, with several hundred tweets issued before, during and (hopefully) after the conference's close using the hashtag #biofortconf.

Day Two in Pictures

Betting on Biofortification: Interview with Nick Kristof

Nick Kristof, columnist with the New York Times, discusses the shift in public thinking that must occur around the issue of persistent hunger. "We in the news media have tended to focus too much on starvation." he says. "And, in fact, so much of hunger is about not getting the right nutrients at the right time." Kristof goes on to underscore the sustainability of the biofortification approach saying that "if you can get people to substitute the kind of rice they eat, the kind of bananas the eat, the kind of wheat they eat [through biofortification], then you've solved the nutrition problems that have been with us for all of human history. Is it gonna work? We can't be sure, but it's a pretty good bet and it sure is exciting."

Geting Micronutrient Malnutrition on the Public Health Agenda

Perspectives from journalist Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

One of the issues that receives the worst coverage in the media is public health. Thus began Nicholas Kristof who has extensively covered public health problems in developing countries in his New York Times column. Unlike breaking news of the moment, there is no daily story or event with this ongoing crisis to command media attention.  In fact, these and other issues that really do matter,  do not have the marketing force behind them to get the attention of the media or public. “It’s more important to market zinc [for health] than coca-cola,” he said.

Noting that while tens of thousands of people were being slaughtered in Darfur, New Yorkers and the media were more concerned about the plight of two red-tailed hawks that were evicted from their lofty Fifth Avenue nest. This led Kristof to investigate why people care about certain things, but not others.

He found that it’s important to first make an emotional connection with your audience rather than a rational connection. Furthermore, stories of one individual tend to be more powerful; once you speak of greater numbers suffering, you lose empathy. So putting this in practice, once you’ve opened that pathway you can then follow through with more information and context.

As the media struggles to find a new business model, and cuts back on overseas coverage to save costs, the nutrition community will need to work harder to get its stories in front of the press. People also want to be part of something positive but NGOs often focus on “suffering rather than solutions."

All this requires a change from business as usual. Working with celebrities to shine the spotlight on your cause is one way. Online games,  videos and other web strategies are new ways to engage with audiences who may not read a newspaper column.  Humor, when appropriate, also works well.

Terms or slogans that that are more user-friendly are also needed—it’s hard to gain traction with non-scientific audiences using terms like ‘micronutrients’ or ‘MDGs’.

With increasing competition for coverage, NGOs will also have to develop greater expertise —not just in knowing the issues at the grassroots —but also "seeing the  bigger picture from 30,00 feet."

View the Q&A from this session with Nicholas Kristof

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts on Kristof’s keynote, and how to get public health issues in the media spotlight!

Biofortification: The Five Big Challenges

Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director

Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director

Guest blog by Tiffany Imes Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellow at the Congressional Hunger Center.

In today's plenary, Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director presented progress made in biofortification, as well as the challenges.

He explained the comparative advantages of biofortification and why this technology that targets the rural poor could be a cost-effective approach to improving nutrition. Bouis also shared the progress that has been made in using crop breeding to improve nutrition. He cited advances in the biofortification of staple crops such as cassava and the use of biofortified foods for school feeding programs in Brazil. He also mentioned advances made in transgenic breeding.

According to Bouis advances in breeding techniques and discoveries of key genes has produced crops with nutrient levels that are high enough to improve human nutrition. Furthermore, Bouis said that “evidence shows that there is no trade-off between high nutrient content and high crop yield.” He highlighted recent findings on the impressive retention of provitamin A (beta-carotene) in maize, which is the most important staple food in much of Africa. Encouraging findings are also emerging from a recent project that introduced orange sweet potato to 24,000 households in Uganda and Mozambique.

Dr. Bouis also shared the constraints he has encountered as biofortification has progressed over the years. He ended his talk by noting the following key challenges faced:

1. Identifying optimal delivery strategies for getting biofortified foods to people
2. Ensuring and measuring the public health impact of biofortification
3. Developing a better understanding of how foods impact human nutrition
4. Getting the agricultural sector to prioritize improving nutrition
5. Getting the nutrition community to prioritize agriculture in order to improve nutrition

The audience particapted in a show of hands to assess which of these they saw as the main priorities. Bouis noted that on the last day of the sympsoium, we would revisit these challenges to see if perceptions had changed over the course of the conference as the latest findings were presented.

See the full presentation on Slideshare.