Biofortified crops: A solution to the world’s “hidden hunger?”

Published August 4, 2022, 10:00 AM

by Vina Medenilla

Many countries around the world continue to suffer from malnutrition, also known as “hidden hunger,” which causes massive human and economic costs. The most common nutrient deficiencies are zinc, vitamin A, and iron. Poverty is generally the root of this. 

As Covid-19 and climate change continue, the global issue of malnutrition also intensifies. Good Food, a global network of food entrepreneurs with a shared goal of making food more nourishing, sustainable, equitable, and resilient, gathered experts and businesses to discuss hidden hunger and how biofortified, nutrient-enriched crops can address this.

What is biofortification or biofortified food?

Biofortification refers to the method of increasing the vitamin and mineral density of a crop through plant breeding or agronomic practices. 

During the webinar, Jenny Walton of HarvestPlus, a publicly funded entity in Washington, stated that the nutrient enrichment of staple crops is “the first line of defense in tackling hidden hunger because the food that people eat the most becomes naturally more nutritious so you’re increasing the baseline of what everybody is eating.”

Walton continued, “Everybody is going to eat bread. Italians are always going to eat pasta and pizza. Americans are always going to eat burgers. We are not going to change people’s diets, but we work on dietary diversity and ensure that everybody has access to the same fruits, vegetables, milk, and eggs globally. People are still going to eat staples, so we have to improve the nutrition content of the food that people eat the most.” 

Other interventions that can be integrated with this are post-harvest fortification, which is the addition of nutrients and minerals to food after harvest, and supplementation, which is the provision of new micronutrients to consumers in the form of sachets or tablets. 

The majority of calories consumed by people around the world today come from rice, pasta, and bread; therefore it’s imperative to boost the nutrient density of these three food staples.

Today, there are 60 million people who benefit from biofortified crops in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

These crops include sweetpotato (vitamin A), banana (vitamin A), maize (vitamin A and zinc), cassava (vitamin A), beans (iron), pearl millet (iron), cowpea (iron and zinc), Irish potato (iron and zinc), sorghum (iron and zinc), lentil (iron and zinc), rice (zinc), and wheat (zinc). 

“These staples naturally have nutrition in them, this is just about increasing the amount of nutrition in them through breeding,” Benjamin Uchitelle-Pierce of HarvestPlus said. 

Biofortification does not entail any genetic modification as it only goes through conventional plant production. With this, biofortified crops appeal to many consumers, farmers, and business owners. 

“Many markets are moving towards a meat-free diet, and biofortification plays an important role there because those plants that are used in those products need to be more nutritious.”

Biofortified crops are not just meat-free, they are also naturally and ethically produced. 

In addition to this, these nutrient-enriched crops are advantageous due to consumers’ preference for “clean label,” or food products that are nutritious and have fewer synthetic ingredients.

Knowing these global food trends is highly beneficial for food entrepreneurs in increasing awareness among potential consumers and harnessing its marketing benefits.

Pierce said, “Biofortification allows businesses to remove things like synthetic fortifications and have a more natural alternative to providing nutrition.”

When it comes to food, it is not enough that the end product is tasty—it must also be healthy. And with this technology, it becomes a win-win situation for everyone who eats, who sells, and who produces food.

Read more about farming and gardening at agriculture.com.ph

 
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