Biofortification used to combat malnutrition

Dr. Wolfgang Pfeiffer

Wolfgang Pfeiffer, deputy director of operations for HarvestPlus. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

By Kathryn Ingerslew

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – More than 2 billion people in the world suffer nutrient deficiencies. Among the many strategies proposed to combat malnutrition are diversifying diets, fortifying food and providing supplements.

Wolfgang Pfeiffer suggests an alternative solution: producing biofortified crops bred to be higher in nutrients.

Pfeiffer, deputy director of operations for HarvestPlus, in Colombia, highlighted the opportunity to reduce nutrient deficiencies by producing biofortified crops, or crops that are higher in key vitamins and minerals including zinc, vitamin A, and iron.

Pfeiffer spoke Thursday at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security.

HarvestPlus has released biofortified varieties of sweet potato, cassava, beans, maize, pearl millet, rice and wheat in 27 countries and is testing them in 42 other countries. Unfortunately, these varieties have been difficult to produce.

Two major questions Pfeiffer posed were whether these crops improve nutrition and whether farmers will use these crops.

As to improving nutrition, Pfeiffer said that in 2004, from the consumption of biofortified wheat that contained 33 percent more zinc than traditional wheat, Indian women received 90 percent of their zinc requirement. In addition, a study conducted in 2009 found that this zinc is being absorbed and used in women and children.

As to whether farmers will use these crops, Pfeiffer said that between 2011 and 2013, over 1.5 million farming households used biofortified crops; over 7.5 million farming households consumed them.

HarvestPlus hopes to increase these numbers through both private and public sector involvement in development, testing and commercialization. Only then can we hope to combat nutrient deficiencies, he said.

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