Boosting Nutrition and Food Security
Working with CGIAR and national partners, HarvestPlus facilitates the development and release of conventionally bred (non-GMO), nutritious biofortified crops. In Colombia, 2019 crop varieties released included a high-yielding hybrid zinc maize with 28 percent more zinc than regular maize. It can also be grown at altitude by Colombia’s 540,000-plus coffee farming families as a second crop.
Expanding the Evidence Base
Biofortification is backed by a robust body of peer-reviewed, published research that expanded further in 2019. A published study from Rwanda showed that iron-deficient women who consumed iron beans twice a day for 18 weeks experienced not only improved iron status but also improved ability to conduct everyday physical tasks—an important result for people’s livelihoods. This complemented previous research with women in Rwanda showing that iron beans improve cognitive and brain function.
Reaching the Most Vulnerable
Women, children, and marginalized communities are priority targets for biofortification given their high risk of micronutrient deficiency. In Bangladesh, HarvestPlus teams with 18 NGOs to visit school classrooms and inform 13-to-15 year old girls and boys about nutrition and the importance of zinc to human health. These students, who mostly live in rural farming areas, also learn about the benefits of zinc rice—information they share with their families. The program reached more than 6,000 students in 2019, including 3,500 girls.
Partnering Across Sectors
Sustainable biofortified food systems are multisectoral; private businesses play a key role in linking farmers to seed and food markets. In April 2019, HarvestPlus convened Indian food business leaders in Delhi to identify sustainable routes to market for biofortified foods and overcome barriers to scaling up. Well-known Indian chef Ranveer Brar is a champion for biofortified foods and spoke at the Delhi gathering. “I am happy to use my influence as a chef to help people learn about cooking with these healthier foods,” he said.
A Growing Global Movement
Several leading organizations incorporated biofortification in key activities and policy guidance during 2019. These included a decision by the World Food Programme to include biofortified crop procurement as an objective in its local and regional food procurement policy. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) produced a joint technical brief on biofortification with HarvestPlus aimed at encouraging adoption by FAO member countries.
New Country Commitments
Twenty-four countries had adopted legislation and/or regulations on biofortification by the end of 2019. In Panama, the government made it a priority within its Food and Nutritional Security Policy as it looks to expand its biofortified food basket with micronutrient-rich varieties of several more types of crops. Currently, iron beans, vitamin A maize, and vitamin A sweet potato varieties are available in Panama.
Nzeyimana Alexis, bean seed multiplier: “When I heard these beans are nutritious and rich in iron, good for children and older people, I chose to invest in them so that not only do we have enough food but also nutritious food.”
Gloriose Musabandi, seed supplier: “I started by selling farmers 200 kilograms [of iron bean seeds] per season. Now I am selling 8 tons per season. Sometimes even 8 tons are not enough.”
Jaqueline Mushimiyana, bean farmer: “I got to know about iron beans at our local agricultural office…the plants have so many branches producing a lot of beans. I also saw change in my child, who looked healthier and weighed very well.”
Ngendahimana Janvier, bean aggregator: “Farmers come to me because they know I am a bulk buyer. Then I find markets to sell them in Kigali."
Thacienne Mukajambo, Kigali bean vendor: “Ever since we informed and educated customers [about these beans], that’s all they come looking to buy.”
Providence Uware, urban consumer and mother: “I feed my children these beans. I prefer them because they are healthier.”