A 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.
Testimony 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.