Over two billion people globally suffer from chronic micronutrient deficiency. leading to blindness, stunting, cognitive impairment, preventable disease and death, and intergenerational poverty. Food systems that provide diverse diets are the ideal, but are often out of reach. Especially in poor or rural households, families lack access to interventions like supplements or fortification and rely on inexpensive staple foods, which will likely lose nutrient levels under climate change.
With a breakthrough innovation by HarvestPlus, staple foods are enriched with vitamins and minerals through conventional plant breeding to provide a sustainable, farmer-controlled tool to fight malnutrition. Biofortified varieties are bred not only to meet farm household demands for yield, climate adaptability, processing/consumption attributes but also to provide over 50% of the daily requirement for vitamin A, iron and zinc for all household members who consume staple foods daily.
Biofortification was developed to help the over two billion people – the majority of whom are in rural areas of LMICs - who do not have sufficient micronutrients in their diets. Its comparative advantage is mainly in rural areas, where households tend to consume what they produce, and tend to have monotonous, staple food-based their diets, and where they are unlikely to be reached by supplementation and fortification and for whom dietary diversity may be out of reach. Biofortification was specifically developed to benefit the most vulnerable and to reach everyone in a household — since all household members tend to consume staple crops as their main, everyday source of food (unlike some other nutritious foods such as animal source foods which tend to be allocated to men and the boys in the household). The micronutrient targets for breeding biofortified varieties of crops are set to meet the micronutrient requirements of those who need them the most – women, children and adolescent girls – who tend to have the highest micronutrient needs for growth, development and good health (of this and future generations) and the lowest micronutrient intake due to cultural, social and economic reasons.
Mission and Vision
In 2019, thanks to extraordinary effort of HarvestPlus's partners, more than 48.5 million people were reached with nutritious biofortified crops. By more than doubling our target working countries, the projected impact will exponentially increase, creating a ripple effect of biofortified seed supply to connected markets in the region. By 2030, HarvestPlus hopes that over 1 billion people will benefit from biofortification.
Through our work, HarvestPlus, in conjunction with IFPRI and the greater CGIAR system,also hopes to build up the agricultural research community at-large by producing greater impact data for a more robust evidence base.We are also working tirelessly to expand the community of seed producers, farmers, researchers, and suppliers, to create a more sustainable value chain in each country we work within.
Biofortification is a unique agricultural innovation that impacts nutrition and subsequent health for such a low level of effort. Even behavior change is at a minimum, as biofortified crops do not disrupt the traditional staple diets of the beneficiary populations, but rather enhance the ingredients. Additionally, biofortified varieties are bred to maintain (or exceed) yield and hardiness when compared to baseline varieties in the same region.
The effects of COVID-19 and recent extreme weather events have shown that shocks to the food system have the greatest impact on the nutrition security of the most vulnerable – those living in poor or rural areas who rely on staple crops for food security. Climate change is leading to decreased yields and micronutrient contents in crops, and increased pest and disease incidence and food prices, with severe effects for smallholder famers. Biofortification is both nutrition and climate smart, and a critical intervention that could provide food systems with the resilience needed to ensure everyone has access to sufficient food and sufficient nutrition. Biofortified varieties are bred to be to be high yielding, with desirable agronomic traits like disease and drought resistance that are tested under local environmental condition. With their higher micronutrient content, they should more than counteract the nutrient loss in staple crops as a result of increasing CO2 emissions.
Planned Goals and Milestones
In target countries— Uganda, Nigeria, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan— HarvestPlus works to ensure farmers not only grow the more nutritious food but consume it as well. Delivery managers work with national partners to register and release new micronutrient-rich crop varieties in target countries. We engage with seed and extension systems to ensure that the crops are widely available and promoted to farmers. Our teams include marketing experts and behavior change specialists who collaborate with local organizations and communities to educate consumers on the benefits of eating these new crops. These new varieties must satisfy consumer tastes and have enough micronutrients to reduce malnutrition among rural communities that will grow and eat these foods regularly.
In most cases, these foods look and taste the same as the most commonly eaten variety. When there is a detectable change, as in the case of vitamin A-rich crops that tend to be yellow to orange in color, HarvestPlus and our partners educate consumers on the nutritional benefits of these new varieties and encourage people to make the switch. When eaten regularly, these micronutrient-rich foods work to contribute to body stores of micronutrients—reducing hidden hunger in malnourished communities.
With this said, HarvestPlus is working with both public and private sector partners to increase the production of widely-adaptable biofortified seed to rural farmers in an expanded target demographic (30 countries globally). By drawing in multinational and local private producers and others along the value chain, the goal is to reduce HarvestPlus direct management by creating a sustainable system far beyond the life of any program.
In the short term, under the larger target of reaching 1 billion people by 2030, HarvestPlus is focused on ramping up seed breeding and dissemination in the Asia region over the next several years.
The next steps for HarvestPlus is drawing in more investers to help scale biofortified crops in each of the regions where we work. Currently, demand outweights the supply of biofortified seed, so we are working with more suppliers and distributors to create a greater output for each market.
Multilateral partnerships, particularly PPP's, need to be forged to ensure greater chances for sustainability in each system that we build. Ramping up advocacy for policy incorporation of biofortification, at the government-level, is also a key next step for our team.