“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.

“Our Time is Now” – Key Speakers at Global Consultation on Nutritious Foods

 

On the first day of the Second Global Conference on Biofortification, key speakers underscored the timeliness of biofortification as a nutrition and public health strategy. “Our time is now,” declared Rwandan Prime Minister Dr. Pierre Habumuremyi to a nearly 300-strong audience of high-level stakeholders invited to deliberate on strategies to get nutritious foods to more people globally.

The urgency of the Prime Minister’s call is borne out by statistics on hidden hunger. This is the condition in which a lack of critical micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals in diets leaves people at increased risk of illness, blindness, premature death, reduced productivity, and impaired mental development. Nearly one in three people globally suffers from hidden hunger, but women and children are especially vulnerable.

Highlighting the role of agriculture and food as the primary sources of minerals and vitamins that people need to be healthy, Dr. Howarth Bouis, the Director of HarvestPlus, argued that “providing good nutrition and health must be a primary - if not THE primary - function of agriculture.” HarvestPlus, which leads a global partnership to develop and disseminate nutrient-rich (biofortified) crops, has already rolled out several staple food crops that are conventionally bred to contain more vitamin A, iron or zinc. These are the micronutrients that the World Health Organization considers to be most limiting in diets globally.

Dr. Bouis’ key message? “Biofortified, nutrient-rich staple food crops are ready for scaling up.” These crops (orange sweet potato, maize and cassava rich in vitamin A; beans and pearl millet rich in iron; and, rice rich in zinc) have already been released to farmers in eight target countries in Africa and South Asia.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come with biofortification,” stated Dr. Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The number of farming households we have begun to reach is a great start,” he told the conference participants, but stressed that more can be done to reach every child with the vitamins and minerals needed to lead healthy and productive lives.

In a panel discussion organized by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Improved Nutrition, participants reflected on the role of policymakers in the quest for increased delivery of nutritious food crops globally. Boitshepo Giyose, a Senior Food and Nutrition Security Advisor to the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD) neatly summed up the discussion: “It is now beyond policymaking and into implementation and action, action.”

That clarion call prompted an important announcement from a major stakeholder. Frank Rijsberman, the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium to which HarvestPlus belongs, revealed that the constituent centers had committed to mainstreaming breeding for vitamin and mineral traits into conventional food crop development programs.

The CGIAR Consortium statement in full.

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

Rwanda PM Officially Opens Global Consultation on Nutritious Foods

Rwandan Prime Minister Dr. Pierre Habumuremyi today officially opened the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali with a call to participants to use their unique strengths and capacities to expand delivery of nutritious crops. Nearly 300 experts  from the agriculture, nutrition and public health sectors are participating in this three-day global consultation hosted by the Government of Rwanda in collaboration with HarvestPlus.  Citing the success of iron beans, which is now being grown and eaten by more than 700,000 Rwandan farmers, Dr. Habumuremyi referenced his government's "well defined path to make food and nutrition a priority" by integrating them into the country's agricultural policies. Watch the short video below for highlights of the Prime Minister's speech:

The conference is being streamed live at live.rwandaevents.com.

Policymakers to Meet in Kigali on Getting Nutritious Foods to People

On March 31, more than 275 high-level stakeholders from government, business and civil society will converge in Kigali, Rwanda, for a three-day consultation on ‘Getting Nutritious Foods to People.’

Nearly one in three people globally suffers from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, zinc and iron in the diet. This condition known as hidden hunger increases the risk of stunting, anemia, blindness, infectious diseases, and even death. Women and children are especially vulnerable.

HarvestPlus, a global program to improve nutrition and public health, has worked with partners to develop new varieties of nutritious food crops that provide more vitamin A, zinc, or iron. These crops already being grown by more than a million farmers have been conventionally bred. They include cassava, maize and orange sweet potato for vitamin A; beans and pearl millet for iron; and rice and wheat for zinc.

Studies have shown that these new varieties do provide nutritional benefits to consumers. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface…we want to increase access to these nutritious crops as quickly as possible. Now is the time to bring partners together to figure out how we do this together,” says Howarth Bouis, the Director of HarvestPlus.

The conference is being hosted by the Government of Rwanda. More than 500,000 Rwandan farmers have already planted new varieties of beans that are rich in iron. These new iron beans also yield many more tons per hectare than the local varieties, and the surplus can be shared or sold.

Keynote speakers include M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned father of India’s Green Revolution; Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;  and, Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013. Adesina serves on the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, a newly formed expert group that advises on nutrition-enhancing agricultural and food policies and investments. The panel will convene a special session to explore how biofortification could help decision makers in developing nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food policies.

“The evidence is promising, and we now need to explore the potential for biofortification to enhance agriculture and food policies for nutrition,” says Jeff Waage, Technical Advisor to the Global Panel and Director of the London International Development Centre.

The invitation-only consultation will be livestreamed and moderated by Jeff Koinange, an award-winning Kenyan journalist and past Chief Anchor for Africa for Arise Television and CNN Senior Africa Correspondent.

For more information, please visit the conference website. Learn more about HarvestPlus. Learn more about the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

What is Biofortification?

Getting critical micronutrients (the vitamins and minerals that people need for good health) to the two billion people who lack them has never been more feasible – or tasty – than it is now.

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Will Biofortification Work?

As a new strategy in the global campaign to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, breeding nutritious staple food crops (biofortification) and getting them to millions of people worldwide is no longer just an idea; some half a million people are already planting or eating such crops, be it iron beans, vitamin A orange sweet potato, maize or cassava in Africa, or iron pearl millet in India.

Biofortification seeks to provide, through the foods that people eat regularly, the vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that are essential to a healthy life. Without these micronutrients, people are less likely to reach their full potential. Micronutrient deficiencies can impair the mental and physical development of infant children and adolescents, resulting in lower IQ, stunting, and even blindness. They also reduce the productivity of adult men and women due to increased risk of illness and reduced work capacity. This condition, also known as hidden hunger, affects one in three people globally.

Howarth Bouis is the director of HarvestPlus, a global program to develop and disseminate biofortified crops. In this short video, Bouis answers three questions that need to be asked--and answered-- if biofortification is to be an effective strategy to improve nutrition and public health:

A Global Policy Consultation on ‘Getting Nutritious Foods to People’, Why Now?

HarvestPlus leads a global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing and disseminating staple food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals. In recent years, several nutritious biofortified crops have been released in eight different countries with promising results. >> Read more