Biofortification: improving the nutritional quality of staple crops


Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals in our diets create major public health problems, mental as well as physical, especially in developing countries. Conventional responses (diet diversification, supplementation, fortification of manufactured foods) have had limited impact.

This chapter analyses a different approach now emerging – biofortification. Rather than adding something new to diets, it seeks to improve the nutrient content of the staple crops most people eat most of the time.

The three forms of biofortification are described and exemplified – enhanced fertilisers, conventional breeding, and nutritional genetic modification.

The chapter then considers major issues that will influence the future development of biofortification: (a) new target levels for nutrient content of crops; (b) the time required for the full implementation of biofortification programmes; (c) the pros and cons of regulating biofortification, including the perverse effect of stimulating the production and smuggling of, and trade in, illegal crop varieties; (d) the relevance of biofortification to small, poor farmers; (e) the different environmental effects of nutritional and agronomic GM crops; (f) the practicalities of distributing biofortified seeds to remote subsistence farmers in developing countries; (g) the recent convergence of poverty reduction and biofortification as development strategies.

The chapter concludes by considering how we will know if biofortification works, and when.


Winkler, J.T. Biofortification: improving the nutritional quality of staple crops. In: Pasternak, C. (ed). Access not Excess. Smith-Gordon Publishing, UK (2011) 100-112. ISBN 978-1-85463-225-8

Biofortification: improving the nutritional quality of staple crops

Published 1 January 2011