Biofortification: An innovative solution to a hidden problem

Biofortification is an agricultural strategy for reducing micronutrient deficiencies—vitamin A, iron, or zinc—by developing and disseminating staple food crops that contain high levels of micronutrients. Nearly two billion people in the world do not get enough essential vitamins and minerals in their daily diets. Those living with this hidden form of hunger may appear healthy, but are vulnerable to illness, infection and even death. Biofortification, which uses conventional plant breeding methods to increase micronutrient levels of food crops, is a cost-effective and sustainable strategy especially in rural areas of many developing countries, where production and consumption of staple crops and micronutrient deficiency rates are high.

HarvestPlus leads the global effort to end hidden hunger caused by the lack of essential vitamins and minerals. We support countries globally to develop, test and release biofortified nutritious crops so that farmers and consumers can enjoy their benefits. Currently, HarvestPlus works with more than 400 partners to develop and scale the delivery of nutritious, agronomically competitive varieties of beans, pearl millet, cassava, maize, sweet potato, rice and wheat.

What is the Biofortification Priority Index (BPI)?

As evidence on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of biofortification becomes available, stakeholders—including international and local NGOs, and multilateral donor agencies—are increasingly interested in investing in biofortification. HarvestPlus developed the Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) in 2013 to inform biggest bang for the buck investments in biofortification.  

The BPI is a composite crop-specific index. It accounts for the degree of production and consumption of each biofortifiable crop in a given country, and the deficiency level for the micronutrient with which the specific crop can be enriched. For each crop, the countries with the highest scores should be prioritized for investment in biofortification.

For a country to be considered a suitable candidate for investment in a biofortified crop:

  1. The country must be a producer of the biofortifiable crop, and at least part of the crop output must be retained for domestic consumption, i.e., not all exported.

  2. The country’s population must consume a substantial quantity of the biofortifiable crop from their own domestic production.

  3. The country’s population suffers from deficiencies of the key micronutrient with which the crop can be biofortified, namely vitamin A, zinc or iron.

The BPI ranks 128 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean for each micronutrient-rich staple crop based on these criteria.