Getting Biofortified Food On Everyone’s Plate 2019 at a Glance

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that people everywhere need good nutrition to be resilient in the face of health threats and lead productive lives. HarvestPlus and its partners are determined to get micronutrient-rich, biofortified varieties of staple crops on the plates of more smallholder farming families and other vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries. See how momentum accelerated during 2019 in efforts to scale up biofortification globally and help foster healthy, inclusive food systems.

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.

Engaging Value Chain Partners For Nutrition Success: Rwanda

With the Rwanda Agriculture Board, and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, HarvestPlus catalyzed a vibrant iron bean food system in Rwanda; iron beans are now 20 percent of all beans produced there and 15 percent of the population eat them regularly. In 2019, HarvestPlus handed over all iron bean activities to Rwandan partners—our definition of success and sustainability. Meet some of the value chain partners we supported:

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.”

Hear from our Rwanda value chain partners in this video

HarvestPlus improves nutrition and public health by developing and promoting biofortified food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and providing leadership on biofortification evidence and technology. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and is based at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).