Support from the Australian Government Launches HarvestPlus into Asia
Courtney Meyer
September 18, 2018

Australia’s long-standing support for biofortification is culminating in a partnership between HarvestPlus and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The grant allows HarvestPlus to scale biofortification in Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia by identifying and working with partners to accelerate access to nutrient-rich staple food crops. Biofortification, which uses conventional crop breeding to increase micronutrient levels, helps to address preventable deficiencies of key vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin A and zinc.

HarvestPlus’ relationship with Australia dates to 1993 when the concept of biofortification was just beginning. The ground-breaking work of Dr. Robin Graham at the University of Adelaide in the early 1990s laid the foundation for today’s global success. Dr. James Stangoulis and his team at Flinders University in Adelaide have been critical to building micronutrient analysis capabilities at CGIAR’s agricultural research centers and National Agricultural Research Systems that remain crucial for the success of HarvestPlus. Later, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and HarvestPlus supported researchers at several universities working on vitamin A sweet potato projects in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

In November 2016, DFAT partnered with LAUNCH and USAID Global Development Lab to help create a new paradigm for food around the world. Under LAUNCH Food, DFAT, through the innovationXchange (iXc), has committed to supporting and accelerating a portfolio of solutions that address the availability of and access to affordable, nutritious, desirable and sustainable food and solutions that promote people’s selection and consumption of more nutritious food in the Indo-Pacific region. As a LAUNCH Food grantee, HarvestPlus will address key challenges in introducing and distributing priority biofortified crops and supporting their integration into markets.

“We are pleased to extend HarvestPlus’ long-standing relationship with Australia and to support the advancement of such innovative work,” says Dr. Sarah Pearson, Chief Innovation Officer at DFAT. “Solutions like biofortification have an important role to play in addressing malnutrition in a sustainable way.”

Many resource-poor families or rural communities rely on staple crops such as rice or wheat for much of their diet. Nutrient-enriched versions of these crops present a cost-effective, sustainable strategy to improve nutrition by eating the foods they readily have available and are accustomed to.

“Research in Southeast Asia was the genesis of biofortification,” says Dr. Howarth Bouis, founder and CEO of HarvestPlus. “We are grateful for Australia’s generous investment to scale this innovative solution where it all began.”

Zinc plays a vital role in health, affecting virtually every organ in the body. It is key to growth and development. Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is widespread in many developing countries, stunting children’s cognitive and physical development. In Pakistan for example, 45% of children under five are stunted. HarvestPlus currently collaborates with World Vision International under the ENRICH Programme to scale up zinc wheat in Sukkur District, Sindh Province. Wheat contributes 72% of the country’s daily caloric intake and supports the livelihood of millions of smallholder farming households. HarvestPlus will leverage DFAT funds to strengthen partnerships and position biofortification as a pathway to achieving economic development and nutrition outcomes.

The successful introduction and scaling of zinc wheat, zinc rice, and iron pearl millet in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India also provides a helpful guidepost for expansion. In Indonesia and the Philippines, where rice is the main staple, biofortified zinc rice would help more children reach their potential, as more than a third of those under five in both countries are stunted. Funding from LAUNCH Food will help identify key players, champions and drivers that could promote biofortification in the region.

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