Dr. Raj Shah, USAID Administrator (photo: IFPRI)

To turn the tide on hunger, agricultural science must provide more than increased yield and grain production. Trends in global health and nutrition suggest that improved crop science can reduce health risks and improve public health. Experts acknowledge the strong link between agriculture and nutrition in reducing malnutrition.

In a recent presentation at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Dr. Raj Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), spoke about biofortified foods and their transformative impact on people in developing countries. (See a video of his remarks- Harnessing Agricultural Innovation for Transformative Impact).

He said biofortified foods have the potential to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, in rural, poor populations. Biofortification is the process of improving micronutrient content of crops through plant breeding.

Dr. Shah remarked that this science of packing seeds with more vitamins and minerals is the kind of science that agricultural scientists want to see playing out in real world settings. He noted the impact of biofortified orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) in helping to reduce vitamin A deficiency in many countries.

“For six or seven years we have had pretty clear data on the power of this particular crop to improve serum retinol levels in children, and how that can protect them from vitamin A deficiency,” he said.

HarvestPlus and its partners have led biofortification efforts, as well as the research and delivery of biofortified OFSP in Mozambique and Uganda, for several years. Follow-up studies indicate a more than 60 percent rate of adoption for the vitamin A-rich sweet potato among farmers. Dr. Shah has witnessed the spread of OFSP.

“I have been in settings where we have had a chance to see young kids try and taste different kinds of OFSP and report back on their favorite varieties. It’s fun to watch.” He noted that the science of biofortification has been proven after several years of testing of biofortified crops in rural settings.

Not only scientists but even farming communities acknowledge the benefits of biofortified crops. HarvestPlus is scaling-up OFSP to reach another 225,000 households in Uganda by 2016. The International Potato Center (CIP) plans to scale-up OFSP to reach more than 600,000 households in 10 countries by 2015, including 120,000 households in Mozambique.

Dr. Shah urged everyone to get behind the next effort to expand the reach of biofortified foods.