Background. The density of minerals and vitamins in food staples eaten widely by the poor may be increased either through conventional plant breeding or through the use of transgenic techniques, a process known as biofortification.
Objective. HarvestPlus seeks to develop and distribute varieties of food staples (rice, wheat, maize, cassava, pearl millet, beans, and sweet potato) that are high in iron, zinc, and provitamin A through an interdisciplinary, global alliance of scientific institutions and implementing agencies in developing and developed countries.
Methods. In broad terms, three things must happen for biofortification to be successful. First, the breeding must be successful—high nutrient density must be combined with high yields and high profitability. Second, efficacy must be demonstrated—the micronutrient status of human subjects must be shown to improve when they are consuming the biofortified varieties as normally eaten. Thus, sufficient nutrients must be retained in processing and cooking and these nutrients must be sufficiently bioavailable. Third, the biofortified crops must be adopted by farmers and consumed by those suffering from micronutrient malnutrition in significant numbers.
Results. Biofortified crops offer a rural-based intervention that, by design, initially reaches these more remote populations, which comprise a majority of the under-nourished in many countries, and then penetrates to urban populations as production surpluses are marketed. In this way, biofortification complements fortification and supplementation programs, which work best in centralized urban areas and then reach into rural areas with good infrastructure.
Conclusions. Initial investments in agricultural research at a central location can generate high recurrent benefits at low cost as adapted, biofortified varieties become available in country after country across time at low recurrent costs.
Bouis, H. E.; Hotz, C.; McClafferty, B.; Meenakshi, J.V.; Pfeiffer, W. H. Biofortification: A new tool to reduce micronutrient malnutrition. Food and Nutrition Bulletin (2011) 32 (Supplement 1) 31S-40S.