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Biofortification- Agriculture in India

Fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient, i.e. vitamins and minerals (including trace elements) in food, so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.

Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops (vitamin A, zinc, iron, or other micronutrients) is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology. Thus, it is instrumental in tackling hidden hunger.

Difference between Bio-fortification and Conventional fortification:  

  • Biofortification differs from conventional fortification in that biofortification aims to increase nutrient levels in crops during plant growth rather than through manual means during the processing of the crops.
  • Biofortification may therefore present a way to reach populations where supplementation and conventional fortification activities may be difficult to implement and/or limited.

Examples: 

  • iron-bio fortification of rice, beans, sweet potato, cassava and legumes
  • zinc-biofortification of wheat, rice, beans, sweet potato and maize
  • provitamin A carotenoid-biofortification of sweet potato, maize and  cassava
  • amino acid and protein-biofortification of sorghum and cassava.

Advantages:  

  • Biofortification of staple crops is an effective option to reach large numbers of rural poor scattered across isolated areas of Africa and South Asia.
  • After the initial outlay of funds, the recurrent costs are minimal. Biofortification of staple crops is a cost-effective method to reach tens of millions of people on a sustainable basis.
  • Biofortification is built on what poor households grow and eat — staple food.
  • Biofortification is sustainable. Long after people stop thinking about biofortification, farmers will continue to grow biofortified crops.
  • It can reach the country’s most vulnerable people, living in the remote rural areas with no access, or money or commercially marketed fortified foods.
  • These crops also serve as an excellent source of balanced feed for livestock in improving their nutritional outcomes.
  • Impact on health and nutritional status: 
  1. Significant reduction in the prevalence of diarrhoea among children under three
  2. Complete reversal of iron deficiency in children and women
  3. Improved cognitive and physical performance in women and children
  4. Improved night vision in children

HarvestPlus — an initiative of IFPRI: 

  • HarvestPlus improves nutrition and public health by developing and promoting biofortified food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals and providing global leadership on biofortification evidence and technology.
  • IFPRI identifies varieties of crops that are naturally higher in micronutrients and use conventional crop breeding methods to cross them with other varieties that are high-yielding and climate-smart.

Biofortification in India:  

  • On World Food Day 2020, during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary  of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Prime  Minister of India noted that common varieties of some crops lack key micronutrients that are essential for good health, and thus biofortified varieties were developed to overcome these shortcomings
  • 17 new biofortified varieties of 8 crops are currently being made available to the farmers:
  1. To usher in the high income of farmers and open new avenues of entrepreneurship development.
  2. Production of these crops will be upscaled & linked with govt programmes of mid-day meal, Anganwadi, etc and make India ‘Kuposhan Mukta’
  3. Biofortified crops provide a sustainable and cost-effective solution to  alleviate malnutrition
  • The Government of Bihar State, India’s third most populous state with the country’s highest rate of stunting, recently committed to rapidly scale up production of zinc wheat seed to reach millions more vulnerable farming families (zinc deficiency is a major cause of stunting). The Bihar government also established a “Nutritional Village” where 475 households will cultivate biofortified crops to help promote these varieties.
  • In 2018, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) established minimum levels of iron and zinc to be bred in national varieties of pearl millet, providing a strong regulatory push for the development biofortified varieties of pearl millet.