Photo: Les Talusan Photography

Last Friday, US President Barack Obama announced the launch of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to promote agricultural growth and lift 50 million Africans out of poverty. In a statement from the White House, the G8 countries pledged to improve nutritional outcomes and reduce child stunting by “support[ing] the accelerated release, adoption, and consumption of biofortified crop varieties, crop diversification, and related technologies to improve nutritional quality of food in Africa.”

The New Alliance is a commitment by G8 nations, African countries, and the private sector to invest in improving health and livelihoods through agricultural development. This 10-year pledge will bring in $3 billion from 45 private sector partners that will be targeted at increasing farmers’ access to credit and expanding markets. The alliance will also provide more support for the Scaling Up Nutrition initiative aimed at improving nutrition for women and children, particularly in the critical first 1,000 days of life.

“After decades in which agriculture and nutrition didn’t always get the attention they deserved, we put the fight against global hunger where it should be, which is at the forefront of global development,” President Obama said last Friday at the Chicago Council’s Global Affairs Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.

Following the G8 summit at Camp David, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC convened three expert panels to discuss biofortified crops, the role biofortification plays in improving nutrition, and next steps for scaling up biofortification. The event provided insight into the significant role that biofortification can play in bolstering food security and nutrition in Africa.

Panelists discussed how nutrient-rich crops can deliver much needed vitamins and minerals to rural, malnourished populations that daily rely on these staple foods. Vitamin A-rich cassava, for example, was released in Nigeria in 2011. Later this year, iron-rich beans and vitamin A maize are set to be released in other African countries.

Empowering women in agriculture was a common theme among panelists. All panelists seemed to agree that women play a crucial role in ensuring not only that nutrient-rich crops are grown but also that they are eaten. Irish Aid representative Vincent O’Neill said that women are the “agents of change at the household level” and must be targeted in any efforts to scale up biofortification.

Public-private partnerships, a major tenant of the G8’s New Alliance, was another recurring theme at the CSIS event. Ashish Wele of India’s Nirmal Seeds displayed photos of high-iron pearl millet seed packets that will be distributed in the coming weeks to rural households. Ian Barker of the Syngenta Foundation underscored the role public-private partnerships can plan in strengthening risk management and improving access to credit for rural farmers.

While biofortification offers a huge promise to rural farmers and households, Victoria Quinn of Helen Keller International reiterated that there is no silver bullet to ending malnutrition. Nutrient-rich crops are a complement to other nutrition interventions such as home gardens, fortification, and supplementation. They help to fill a gap by reaching rural, poor households often missed by these interventions.

With 2 billion people worldwide suffering from a lack of essential nutrients, the G8’s commitment to biofortified crops is a major step in accelerating efforts to reach those in need.

Resources

White House Statement on New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

Recording of CSIS Expert Panel on Biofortification, May 21