Mapping for Investments in Biofortification: HarvestPlus Launches Interactive New Tool

BPI_mainA new, interactive online tool is now available to guide stakeholders in deciding where, and in which biofortified crops, to invest. The Biofortification Priority Index (BPI), which focuses on three micronutrients—iron, vitamin A, and zinc—allows users to search and sort through three easy-to-use drop down menus, with results displayed on a color-coded map according to crop, region, and priority for investment.

The BPI will be useful to stakeholders in making investment decisions on biofortification that will have the highest pay off in reducing micronutrient deficiencies. It comes at a time when biofortification is attracting increased recognition as a viable strategy to improve the nutritional status of populations dependent on staple food crops for sustenance. Many national nutrition and agricultural policies now integrate biofortification, while several countries and organizations have committed to supporting the scaling up and delivery of biofortified crops following the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in 2014.

More detailed explanations about the data and methodology behind the BPI are available in the full HarvestPlus Working Paper on which the tool is based.

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.

 

“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.

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.

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

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.

>> Read more

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