Stakeholders Meet to Appraise Brazil’s Biofortification Program

Foto 2_Crédito para Tarcila Viana

Photo credit: Tarcila Viana

Stakeholders in Brazil’s biofortification program met in Rio de Janeiro last week to take stock of progress in promoting the development, adoption, and consumption of biofortified crops. The 5th National Biofortification Meeting took place October 13-15 in Rio de Janeiro, bringing together, among others, experts from HarvestPlus, CIAT, ICRISAT, the US Department of Agriculture, the International Union of Food Science and Technology, Cornell University, and Nestlé.

Brazil remains a global leader in national ownership of biofortification, and has released several biofortified crops to farmers, including vitamin A sweet potato, cassava and maize, iron and zinc cowpeas, and iron beans. Biofortified foods have also been included as part of school meals in some states.

HarvestPlus applauded achievements in creating demand for biofortified crops and expanding the reach of these nutritious crops in the northeast region of Brazil, but also identified areas for improvement, such as increasing the rate of voluntary purchases of seed and creating public and social policies on biofortification.

Yery Mendoza, a researcher from Nestlé, expressed confidence in the sustainability of biofortification given the demand potential resulting from increasing pouplation growth, predicting that "it is only a matter of time before biofortified foods reach commercial scale production.” Mendoza noted that Nestlé, and the private sector in general, would play crucial roles in bringing nutritious foods to the table, and creating secure supply chains.

The meeting was organized by the BioFORT Network, which leads the Brazilian biofortification program under the national Agricultural Research Corporation, Embrapa. Marilia Nutti, who heads the BioFORT Network in addition to HarvestPlus’ Latin America and Caribbean program, underscored the importance of learning from other countries’ successes and expriences. She cited Rwanda, where HarvestPlus and partners have reached more than half a million farming households with iron beans.

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.

“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.