HarvestPlus Director Speaks on the Power of Biofortification at SAIS

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Dr. Howarth Bouis

HarvestPlus Director Howarth Bouis gave a talk on “The Power of Biofortification” at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC on March 3. This event was part of the Global Issues in Agriculture Speaker series organized by SAIS, a top graduate school that focuses on international affairs, economics, diplomacy, and policy research and education.

THEME: Better Crops, Better Nutrition: the Power of Biofortification
DATE: March 3, 2015
TIME: 4:30PM – 6:00PM
VENUE: Rome Auditorium

A link to the video of the presentation can be found here. 

Connecting Farmers to Markets: A New Report from World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) has just released a new report: The P4P story – Connecting farmers to markets.

Purchase for Progress (P4P) is a five year pilot project of the WFP that has transformed the lives of smallholder farmers in 20 developing countries.

According to the report, P4P links WFP’s demand for staple food commodities, such as cereals and pulses, with the technical expertise of a wide range of partners. This collaboration provides smallholders with the skills and knowledge to improve their agricultural production, and an incentive to do so, as they have an assured market in which to sell their surplus crops. The successes of farmers, governments and other WFP partners have enjoyed by working together is highlighted.

The report also notes HarvestPlus’ role in increasing the availability of biofortified crops to small holder farmers who are most challenged by malnutrition in countries such as Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. In these countries, P4P affiliated smallholder farmers started to grow iron beans, vitamin A sweet potato, and vitamin A maize respectively.

 “Smallholders are participating in seed multiplication activities, growing the biofortified crops and selling part of their produce back to HarvestPlus for redistribution, while retaining a portion of the household consumption.”

The WFP has also released a corresponding technical report Purchase for Progress (P4P) – Reflections on the pilot.

Ken Davies, P4P Global Coordinator, spoke about WFP’s collaboration with HarvestPlus while at the 2nd Global Conference on Biofortification: “Getting Nutritious Foods to People” in Kigali, Rwanda

Global Panel Launches New Policy Brief on Biofortification

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition has just released a new policy brief focused on biofortification. Titled Biofortification: An Agricultural Investment for Nutrition, the brief urges policymakers to adopt biofortification as a “nutrient-sensitive national agricultural research and investment strategy.”

It includes technical evidence on the nutritional benefits of biofortified crops, particularly for children and women from rural populations in low and middle-income countries where micronutrient deficiencies (or ‘hidden hunger’) are prevalent. It also highlights some of the biofortified crops that have been released to date and are being grown by farmers in 27 developing countries. Such crops include vitamin A orange sweet potato, cassava, and maize, zinc rice and wheat, and iron beans and pearl millet.

Moreover, the brief showcases Nigeria as a successful example of a developing country whose government has embraced biofortification among strategies to improve nutrition and food security. Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Akinwumi Adesina is a strong advocate of expanding access to biofortified crops. “The challenge is no longer the science for biofortification—we know it works; our challenge as policymakers is to scale up biofortified crops to reach millions of households through institutional, regulatory and financial policy,” he stated at a major conference last year.

The Global Panel’s policy brief encourages policymakers to adopt biofortification as an important element among a suite of complementary strategies to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. It concludes with a list of recommendations for scaling up biofortification, a theme that the Panel previously addressed during the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, last year.

The policy brief was launched at an event hosted by the United Kingdom’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Iron Beans in East Africa

Rwanda will host the Second Global Conference on Biofortification from March 31 to April 2, 2014.  Farmers in the country have been growing iron beans since 2012, when five varieties were released. To date more than 270,000 Rwandan farming households – or 15 percent of rural farmers in the country – are growing and eating this nutritious crop. Iron bean varieites have also been released in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where 175,000 households are already planting them. In Uganda, where vitamin A orange sweet potato is already widely grown, iron beans have also been introduced.

These countries are all located in sub-Saharan Africa, where iron deficiency is widespread. In the DRC, for example, three-quarters of all children under five lack dietary iron. This means they face increased risk of lowered resistance to disease and impaired learning capacity. Nearly one in three Rwandan children under five is similarly afflicted. Severe anemia, often caused by iron deficiency, increases the risk of women dying in childbirth.

Beans are widely grown and consumed in all three countries.  The iron bean varieties released by HarvestPlus and partners can provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs -  14 percent more than the commonly grown bean varieties. Fully biofortified beans are ultimately expected to provide up to 60 percent of daily iron needs.  All released iron bean varieties are conventionally bred. Louis Butare, from the Rwanda Agriculture Board, explains the process in this short video:

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More on Iron Beans:

Neil Palmer, On the Trail of DR Congo’s Purple Gorillas
The Sunday Times, ‘Wonder’ Bean Variety Excites Farmers