Seeding better health


Using the latest plant breeding techniques coupled with advances in nutritional science we continue to develop better seeds that generate multiple benefits: increased yield, disease resistance, resilience to climate change and improved nutritional composition. We are expanding our focus on improving the nutritional composition of crops. This research is not restricted to the major crop staples, such as rice, wheat and maize, but includes root, tuber and banana crops – one of the cheapest sources of dietary energy – and, neglected, or orphan crops and regionally important foods that can help close the nutrition gap. In addition, there is the diversity of traditional or wild foods, growing on the margins of cultivated lands, or in forests, that can also provide significant nutrition. Against a challenging global landscape of population growth, urbanization, climate change and environmental degradation, CGIAR works with a range of crops and foods to bring a healthy balanced diet to those most in need.

Through biofortification, CGIAR and its partners have developed varieties of staple food crops that are richer in micro-nutrients such as vitamin A, iron, or zinc. At its 2014 conference on ‘Getting Nutritious Foods to People,’ hosted by the Government of Rwanda, CGIAR committed to include breeding for high mineral or vitamin content in all of its global crop development programs, and mobilized policymakers, leaders, and investors to make commitments to further mainstream and scale delivery of these nutritional traits into a global crop improvement portfolio.

For example, in Rwanda where 44% of the country’s population suffers from malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency, CGIAR developed high-yielding iron-rich beans, providing almost half of daily iron needs to 800,000 households. The initiative was strongly supported by the Rwandan government: more than half of Rwandan farmers have already adopted biofortified iron beans.

In South Asia, where micro-nutrient rich animal products are beyond the reach of low-income families, CGIAR, in collaboration with national programs and partners, reached over 1 million farmers with new high yielding lentils that are richer in iron and zinc. In Bangladesh alone, high iron and zinc ‘Barimasur’ lentils reached about 820,000 farmers, whereas varieties in Nepal were adopted by over 400,000 farmers.

In Africa, CGIAR continues to transform lives with the orange-fleshed sweet potato that is rich in vitamin A. Not only does a modest ‘scoop’ meet a young child’s daily vitamin A needs, our research has shown that it also significantly reduces the impact and duration of diarrhea, a leading cause of death in poorer children. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is now being scaled up to reach millions of households throughout Africa.

Ten million people in rural households in Africa, Asia and Latin America are now growing and eating these vitamin and mineral-rich crops and almost 30 countries have approved new biofortified crop varieties. Looking ahead, our goal is to reach 100 million people with biofortified crops by 2018 and a billion people by 2030.

Of course, CGIAR cannot achieve these ambitious targets alone. Close collaboration with national programs and other sectors such as education, social protection, gender, water, sanitation, hygiene and health is critical. CGIAR is also pioneering partnerships with small and medium size private sector seed companies and exploring contacts to process biofortified crops into food products.

Photo: Climbing beans in Rwanda © CIAT/Neil Palmer

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