Biofortification: An innovative solution to a hidden problem

An estimated 3 billion people cannot afford nutritious diets. More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiency—also known as hidden hunger—where they do not get enough essential vitamins and minerals in their daily diets.

Those living with hidden hunger may appear healthy but are vulnerable to stunted growth and development, illness, and infection (including novel viruses). Hidden hunger leads to compromised immune systems, blindness, stunting, cognitive impairment, disease, and even death, resulting in losses in productivity and associated income, not just for the current generation but for generations to come.

Biofortification proven to be an efficacious and cost-effective solution to improving diets, reducing micronutrient deficiencies, and improving health outcomes. A food-based approach, biofortification uses conventional (non-GMO) breeding methods to improve the micronutrient content of key staple crops—the backbones of any food system, regularly consumed by all.

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 600 partners to develop and scale the delivery of nutritious, agronomically competitive varieties of key staples – such as bean, pearl millet, cassava, maize, sweet potato, rice and wheat – which comprise the backbone of any food system.

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 the biggest bang for the buck investments in biofortification.  This interactive tool identifies the country-crop combinations for which biofortification is to have the greatest potential impact on improving diet quality and reducing micronutrient deficiencies.

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 are recommended to be prioritized for investment in the introduction and scaling of biofortification. The tool also provides useful information on the evidence and facts about each biofortified crop and in which countries biofortified varieties are released for scaling or in testing.

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 with conventional plant breeding methods, namely vitamin A, zinc, or iron.

The BPI ranks 128 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean for each of the 13 biofortified staple crops based on these criteria.