Fundamentally, the prevalence of mineral and vitamin deficiencies is high in developing countries due to the fact that agricultural systems do not produce sufficient foods rich in minerals and vitamins.
Biofortification involves breeding staple food crops to increase their micronutrient content, targeting staple foods widely consumed by low-income families globally. In so doing, biofortification contributes to solving the underlying problem of mineral and vitamin deficiencies by increasing the amount of iron, zinc and provitamin A produced by food systems. Biofortified varieties are high yielding, among the most profitable varieties available, and so attractive to farmers for adoption. Mothers can buy biofortified staple foods at the same price as for non-biofortified staple foods, and so can add minerals and vitamin to their family diets at no extra cost.
When HarvestPlus first started in 2003, there was much doubt among a range of stakeholders, that biofortification would work. Presently, over 300 varieties of twelve biofortified crops (developed using conventional plant breeding techniques) have passed the agronomic tests of varietal release committees in 30 developing countries. In 3-5 years, biofortified varieties will be available to farmers and consumers in an additional 25 countries. An estimated 10 million farm households now grow and consume biofortified foods.
The final and major challenge is to mainstream biofortification into the fabric of “business-as-usual” of a range of organizations – public and private agricultural research, institutions that focus on bringing improved agricultural technologies to farmers including multi-lateral lending institutions, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and the policies and programs of national governments, regional organizations, and UN agencies. The vision of HarvestPlus is that by 2030, one billion people will be reached by biofortified crops.
In the Philippines, initial efforts are underway to test and scale-up production and consumption of high zinc rice which will have the most impact due to the high per capita consumption of rice. Also, efforts are ongoing to develop high provitamin A maize, cassava, sweetpotato, and bananas for the Philippines.
The prevalence of mineral and vitamin deficiencies is high in developing countries since agricultural systems do not produce sufficient foods rich in minerals and vitamins.