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Biofortification: A Cost-Effective Approach

March 30, 2010

A recent HarvestPlus study suggests that among various food-based innovations used to improve micronutrient malnutrition, biofortification (the process of breeding crops with higher nutrient content) could be the most cost-effective strategy. The study found that biofortification could be highly effective in averting the illnesses, permanent health conditions, and premature death caused by micronutrient deficiencies, especially in Asia and Africa.

Traditionally, supplementation and fortification (the process of adding nutrients to foods during processing) have been the two main methods of combating micronutrient malnutrition, which affects millions of people worldwide every year. However, these interventions require continual investments, whereas biofortification requires a one-time investment to produce a new micronutrient-rich food crop that farmers can grow for years to come and that consumers can adopt into their diets.

The study, which was published in World Development, examined the cost-effectiveness of staple crops biofortified with zinc, provitamin A, and iron in 12 countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It found, for example, that in India and Bangladesh, rice biofortified with zinc could save one year of a person’s life that otherwise would have been worsened or lost due to complications from micronutrient malnutrition for just $2 per year saved.

“This ex-ante study is encouraging as it indicates that biofortification can be a very low-cost strategy, especially in helping the harder-to-reach rural poor,” says HarvestPlus Director Howarth Bouis. “A big advantage is that, once in place, it’s a very sustainable intervention.”

HarvestPlus is a program co-convened by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to reduce hidden hunger by providing micronutrients through biofortified staple foods. An abstract of the study (How Cost-Effective is Biofortification in Combating Micronutrient Malnutrition? An Ex Ante Assessment) is available at www.harvestplus.org/content/how-cost-effective-biofortification-combating-micronutrient-malnutrition-ex-ante-assessment-0.

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