Biofortified crops developed and promoted by HarvestPlus and its partners are backed by 20-plus years of peer-reviewed, published research on their nutrition and health benefits, cost-effectiveness, farmer adoption, and consumer acceptance.

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Key high-level research findings:

Biofortified crops improve nutritional status and health when consumed as a regular part of daily diets.

Farmers are willing to grow biofortified crops because they are also high-yielding, contain several improved production traits, and are overall climate-adaptive.

Consumers prefer biofortified crops over comparable non-biofortified varieties (based on appearance, odor, taste, and texture); consumer acceptance (measured by willingness to pay) increases when consumers receive information on the nutritional benefits.

Biofortification Research Evidence Brief

A summary of nutrition, health, and socio-economic research findings about biofortified crops.

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Evidence on Cost-Effectiveness

The Copenhagen Consensus, a leading global development think tank, ranks biofortification (and other interventions that reduce micronutrient deficiencies) among the highest value-for-money investments for economic development: For every USD invested in biofortification, they estimate as much as 17 USD of benefits gained.

Ex-ante (before intervention) analyses of several micronutrient-crop and country scenarios, as well as a recent systematic review of such analyses, have shown that biofortification is highly cost-effective when measured by the World Bank’s criteria of cost (in USD) per Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY) saved. These analyses show biofortified crops to be in the range of USD 15-20 per DALY save—far below the World Bank’s cost-effectiveness threshold of USD 270 per DALY.

HarvestPlus also developed the Biofortification Priority Index to inform strategies on biofortification research and development, to help identify countries where biofortification investments in 13 different crops are likely to have the greatest impact on reducing micronutrient deficiencies. For each crop, the BPI applies an impact potential ranking system among 128 countries of the Global South.


Evidence on Nutrition and Health Benefits

For each crop, evaluations of intrinsic nutritional value and potential impacts on human nutrition and health status are conducted in studies involving children, adolescents, and/or women. These are the primary target groups for biofortification, given their relatively high nutritional needs, which leave them more vulnerable to micronutrient deficiency.

How these benefits are assessed

Nutrient Retention Studies

What is the effect of typical processing (e.g. milling into flour), storage (e.g. in plastic bags), and cooking (e.g. boiling, baking, or frying) on the micronutrient content of crops? 

Bioavailability and Absorption Studies

How much of the nutrients in consumed biofortified foods are taken up and used by the body?

Efficacy Studies

Do the micronutrients added by biofortification measurably improve nutrition and/or health compared to conventional counterparts in optimal (controlled) conditions over the short-term (3-9 months)?

Effectiveness Studies

Are the added micronutrients in biofortified foods enough to measurably improve nutrition and/or health compared to the conventional counterpart in free-living or typical market conditions over the long-term?

Published, peer-reviewed studies have shown that young children (1-6 years) and non-pregnant, non-lactating women of reproductive age (15-49 years) who consume biofortified crops as a main part of their diets can receive:

up to 100% of their daily vitamin A requirement from vitamin-A biofortified crops
up to 80% of their daily iron requirement from iron-biofortified crops
up to 70% of their daily zinc requirement from zinc-biofortified crops

Proven health benefits

Vitamin A-biofortified crops improve night vision and reduce vitamin A deficiency and diarrhea—leading causes of morbidity and mortality in young children.
Iron-biofortified crops reverse iron deficiency and iron-deficiency related anemia, reduce fatigue, and improve cognitive and physical performance.
Zinc-biofortified crops can improve immune function, and reduce stunting, the risk of diarrheal disease and respiratory infections, inflammation, pneumonia, vomiting, and fever.

Evidence on Farmer Adoption

Researchers conduct farmer field day evaluations, outcome monitoring surveys, nationally representative varietal adoption studies, and randomized control studies to understand farmers’ adoption of biofortified crops. Studies show in particularly that biofortified crops’ competitive agronomic traits—including high yield, fast maturation, and disease- and drought-resistance—drive adoption by farmers. 

What do the numbers show? 

The first biofortified staple crop varieties were provided to farmers in 2004—vitamin A orange sweet potato varieties in Mozambique and Madagascar. As of the end of 2021, an estimated 12.8 million smallholder farming families were growing biofortified crops, compared to 1.7 million in 2014. 

See the Global Reach page for breakdowns by country.

7.9 million Households Growing Biofortified Crops in Africa
4.7 million Households Growing Biofortified Crops in Asia
209,000 Households Growing Biofortified Crops in Latin America and Caribbean

Selected Farmer Adoption Studies

Iron Beans in Rwanda

A nationally representative survey of bean producing households showed iron beans were nearly 12 percent of national bean production, only four years after delivery of iron beans to farmers had begun.

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Vitamin A Orange Sweet Potato in Mozambique and Uganda

A randomized controlled trial found high adoption rates (over 60 percent) among participating householders, while a follow up study in 2012 showed sustained high adoption and consumption.

View the study

Vitamin A Cassava in Nigeria

An outcome monitoring survey in four states showed 21 percent of cassava acreage was allocated to vitamin A cassava (VAC), and VAC roots were 25 percent of cassava production, suggesting a favorable yield advantage.

View the Study

Evidence on Consumer Acceptance 

Researchers conduct consumer acceptance studies in the field and in lab conditions to understand consumers’ acceptance—expressed in terms of their willingness to pay or sensory (organoleptic) evaluations, or both —for biofortified foods. 

Iron Pearl Millet in India

Consumers liked bhakri (flat bread) made with iron pearl millet (IPM) as much or more than bhakri made with non-biofortified pearl millet. Preference for IPM bhakri increased when nutrition information was also provided.

View the study

Vitamin A Maize in Zambia

Consumers accorded higher value (measured as willingness to pay) to nshima (thick corn porridge) made with vitamin A orange maize (VAM) than to nshima made with white or yellow maize. VAM preference increased when nutrition information was also provided.

View the study

Iron Bean in Rwanda

Consumers preferred a red iron bean variety over a white iron bean variety or a non-biofortified popular variety when no nutritional information was provided; with nutritional information, both iron bean varieties were preferred over the non-biofortified variety.

View the study