“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.

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.

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