HarvestPlus-India has been awarded a US$6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand its work in biofortification to two new states, Bihar and Odisha, over the next five years.
HarvestPlus has operated in India for more than six years, in close collaboration with the public and private sector to improve nutrition and public health by developing and promoting biofortified crops. These crops — iron pearl millet, iron lentil and zinc wheat — boost the levels of much needed iron and zinc in the diet, helping to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies.
“With the newly established National Nutrition Mission, the government can help in incorporating biofortification with safety and safeguards through natural and conventional plant breeding as a policy to improve nutrition outcomes and address micronutrient malnutrition, popularly known as hidden hunger,” says Mr. Basanta Kumar Kar, the CEO of the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security, a leading policy and advocacy body in the country.
According to the World Bank, India has one of the largest percentages of children suffering from malnutrition in the world. In two of its most nutritionally vulnerable states, Bihar and Odisha, stunting levels are 48 percent and 38 percent respectively.
Lawrence Kent, a senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attended the project launch on January 15 and 16 in Patna, Bihar. “Insufficient zinc in the diets of the poor causes unnecessary illness and suffering,” he says. “This new project offers an opportunity to promote the cultivation and consumption of new varieties of wheat and rice that contain more zinc, which can contribute to improved health, particularly among farming families who tend to eat the same crops that they grow.”
HarvestPlus Country Manager Binu Cherian stated, “Biofortified crops are already enjoying widespread acceptance and adoption by farmers throughout India … This grant will help us to expand partnerships in these two states to improve nutrition and health by introducing biofortified crops.”
To ensure sustainable and long-term product availability for target markets, HarvestPlus India collaborates with National Agricultural Research Systems and private seed companies, several of which participated in the project launch. HarvestPlus’ Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Maggie Kamau-Biruri, was also in attendance and noted that it was a “pleasure to see private seed companies present as they will surely bring added value to our efforts to scale up biofortification.”
At the end of 2017, HarvestPlus India had reached over 200,000 farming households across five states with two biofortified crops: zinc wheat and iron pearl millet. The challenge now is to scale up supply to meet the demand for biofortified crops. “One way to do that”, says Cherian, “is by creating market linkages with food companies and the existing public food distribution and nutrition programs. Such a demand-pull mechanism will not only generate a market for farmers who grow biofortified crops, but will also improve the nutrition outcomes delivered by these programs.”