In a key step forward for biofortification in Africa, agriculture ministers of the 55-nation African Union (AU) have recommended to their heads of state to officially endorse this food-based nutrition strategy at an AU summit meeting.

Africa is already a global leader in the introduction and scale-up of biofortification, with more than 100 varieties of nutritious biofortified crops available or in pre-release testing in 38 countries. African governments have also led the way in adopting policies that promote greater access to biofortification. Even so, an endorsement by African heads of state would likely spark heightened interest in this approach to addressing micronutrient deficiency in even more countries and accelerate the adoption of supportive policies and programs across the continent.

The move by the agriculture ministers was announced at this year’s Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security in Cairo, Egypt. This year’s theme, “Fostering New Agricultural Technologies for Improved African Diets,” highlighted biofortification as a sustainable, cost-effective solution to ending micronutrient deficiency, or “hidden hunger,” on the continent.

Her Excellency Ambassador Josefa Sacko, the Commissioner of the AU Commission’s Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, confirmed in Cairo that agriculture ministers from all 55 member states have recommended a high-level endorsement of biofortification at the summit.

“Working together with HarvestPlus and other stakeholders, we have produced a draft declaration…for presentation and endorsement at the…summit. Efforts are ongoing to develop and launch a framework on accelerating the scaling up of biofortification to the rest of the countries in Africa,” said Sacko. She also recognized the work of the AU Commission, HarvestPlus, the International Potato Center, and others in scaling up biofortification.

HarvestPlus Africa Regional Director Donald Mavindidze, who attended the Cairo gathering, said, “HarvestPlus is extremely pleased that the African ministers have taken this step forward. Many millions of Africans in desperate need of better nutrition would benefit directly from a high-level endorsement by the heads of state.”

The recommendation by the ministers of agriculture is the result of sustained and coordinated efforts by a distinguished group of biofortification champions throughout the region, including AU experts, CGIAR centers, African agricultural research organizations, United Nations bodies, and advocates.

HarvestPlus leads a global effort to catalyze the scale up of biofortification to address hidden hunger, which currently affects more than two billion people, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Hidden hunger can lead to serious health problems, including anemia, stunting, blindness, and even death.

HarvestPlus promotes varieties of eight staple crops that are biofortified with iron, zinc, or vitamin A. More than 340 varieties have been released worldwide so far.

For more information about the work of HarvestPlus in Africa, contact Donald Mavindidze.