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34. HarvestPlus: Biofortification – Expectations for eradication of "hidden hunger"

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The world is facing three nutritional challenges (Pick Up 3; Our World in Data).

  • Hunger and undernourishment refers to dietary energy intake below the minimum amount of energy required to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019, the number of undernourished people in the world has risen since 2015 to 821 million in 2018, equivalent to one in every nine people.
  • Obesity or overnourishment refers to dietary energy intake which exceeds the requirement to maintain a healthy bodyweight. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the worldwide obesity rate has nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016, corresponding to 13% of the world's adult population.
  • Micronutrient deficiency refers to inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts for normal growth and development of the body. According to WHO, almost 2 billion people have iron deficiency anemia. Micronutrient deficiency, also known as “hidden hunger”, can have a significant effect on nutrient intake and metabolism and immunity, even if there is sufficient calorie level. For example, it is known that iron deficiency causes anemia, iodine deficiency leads to goiter and impaired cognitive development, and vitamin A deficiency leads to night blindness, and more commonly, to immunodeficiency.

According to the FAO 2019 report, the number of people who are facing some sort of food security crisis (a combination of moderate and severe levels of food insecurity) is 2 billion, which is equivalent to 26% of the world population. As of May 2020, the international community is working to contain the COVID-19. This pandemic highlights the importance of food security and nutrition in the country which helps people everywhere to strengthen their resilience against viruses and other infectious diseases and to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The problem of micronutrient in developing countries is being addressed by providing nutritional supplements and fortified processed foods. However, it is not cost-sustainable and there are concerns that the poorest and rural households with the most micronutrient deficiency problems, could rarely have access to commercially fortified foods. As such, biofortification which aims to breed crops with enhanced nutritional value, is seen as a more effective approach because micronutrient deficiency can be resolved at the agricultural production stage. HarvestPlus, pioneered by economist Dr. Howarth Bouis, is working with the CGIAR research centers on the breeding, development and dissemination of such biologically fortified crops, focusing on iron, vitamin A and zinc, for the vulnerable people in developing countries.

The HarvestPlus Annual Report 2019, published in May 2020, highlights the activities and successful cases, and  shows the global efforts to scale up the cultivation and consumption of micronutrient-rich varieties of rice, wheat, maize, beans, pearl millet, cassava, orange sweet potato, and other staple food crops. In 2019, HarvestPlus in collaboration with CGIAR research centers and national agricultural research systems facilitated the release of 27 new varieties of biofortified crops in 11 countries. To date, 242 varieties have been released in 30 countries. These crops are expected to benefit more than 42 million farmers in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

As an example, biofortified vitamin A maize can provide 50% of the daily requirement and high- iron beans can provide 80% of the requirement if taken on a daily basis. In Rwanda, it has been reported that anemic women due to iron deficiency, who were fed with high-iron beans twice a day for 18 weeks, showed not only improvement in their iron status but also in their ability to perform daily household chores and physical work, showing the impact of biofortification in improving people's lives.



FAO (2019) The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World - Safeguarding Against Economic Slowdowns and Downturns 

HarvestPlus. Our History

HarvestPlus. Getting Biofortified Food on Everyone’s Plate: 2019 HarvestPlus Annual Report May 6, 2020 

HarvestPlus. Getting Biofortified Food On Everyone’s Plate: 2019 At a Glance  

Our World in Data. Micronutrient Deficiency by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser. Accessed on May 10, 2020.

WHO. Micronutrient deficiencies 

WHO. Obesity and overweight 

Pick Up 3. Changing perspectives in agricultural research on global food and nutrition security


Contributor: SHIRATORI Sakiko (Research Strategy Office)

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