2015: A Productive Year for Biofortified Crops

Biofortified crops enjoyed a very productive 2015. At the close of the year, nearly 3 million farming households in target countries in Africa and Asia were growing and eating these nutritious staple food crops. Read more about how farmers and their families are reaping the benefits.

 

HarvestPlus Shares Insights on Biofortification at Clinton Global Initiative

From left to right: Sylvia Magezi (HarvestPlus Country Manager in Uganda), Marcus Samuelsson (celebrity chef and restaurateur)

HarvestPlus joined scores of organizations in New York City last week at the 11th Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative to discuss and share ideas to improve the world. Director Howarth Bouis and HarvestPlus Uganda Country Manager Sylvia Magezi both participated.

As part of the panel for a breakout session titled “Starting the Food Chain with Nutrition” on September 28, Magezi shared insights from HarvestPlus’ work in promoting vitamin A orange sweet potato and iron beans in Uganda. She also highlighted the global momentum of biofortification, noting the growing number of governments and organizations that have adopted biofortified crops. “Strategic partnerships are the way to go to reach the billion people [that HarvestPlus expects to benefit from biofortified crops by 2030],” Magezi emphasized.

The panel was moderated by Kathy Spahn, who leads Hellen Keller International, one of HarvestPlus’ major partners in promoting biofortification. A recording of the full session is available here.

Participants at the CGI got a chance to taste vitamin A corn, which was included in the lunch menu. HarvestPlus is promoting this biofortified maize variety in Zambia, where it was recently launched for commercial sale across the country.

The CGI was established in 2005 by former US President Bill Clinton and is an initiative of the Clinton Foundation. It brings together global leaders to discuss innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

 

 

Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament Launches Up-scaling of Orange Sweet Potato

From left to right; Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, Dr. Goretti Semakula, a researcher based at NARO, Ms. Jo LEsser-Oltheten, USAID's Director of Economic Growth, and Ms. Sylvia Magezi, the Country Manager of HarvestPlus

HarvestPlus recently launched the up-scaling of orange sweet potato in Uganda at an event marked by participation of key partners and dignitaries. The event was launched under the theme, “Biofortification: A new way to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.”

Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament, Ms. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga participated in this launch event on February 11, 2015. She said,

“Let me take this opportunity to officially launch the scaling of the orange sweet potato in Uganda and recommend it to farmers, agricultural extension advisors and the general public.”

 The Speaker was the official guest of honor for the HarvestPlus launch event.

The OSP project is targeted to reduce Vitamin A deficiency, which has affected 33% of children and 35% of women in Uganda. This deficiency is known to cause eye damage, measles and diarrheal diseases in children. Ms. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga emphasized the critical role of Vitamin A orange sweet potato to improve nutrition and promote better health conditions. She also acknowledged the importance of the scaling up of OSP and applauded HarvestPlus’ initiative in Uganda.

The event was well attended by HarvestPlus and its key partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is now funding efforts to provide 285,000 Ugandan farming households with orange sweet potato, as part of the US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The event also attracted wide local support from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), many farmers’ organizations and schools in Uganda.

The launch event was featured in a special report in “The Nutritionist” magazine. The benefits of the orange sweet potato project was covered by one of the popular TV stations of Uganda as a prime time show.

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.

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