According to the latest Global Nutrition Report (GNR), one out of nine people in the world are undernourished. The report calls on governments, businesses and civil society to step up efforts to address malnutrition in all its forms by tackling injustices in food and health systems.
The GNR emphasizes the urgent need to approach the nutrition emergency from an equity lens to tackle glaring inequalities by age, gender, location, education and the distribution of wealth, let alone complex factors like conflict and political circumstances affecting access to affordable and healthy diets.
The report presents evidence of a gaping urban–rural food and nutrition divide, and even larger differences across communities when it comes to food security. For example, for children under five years of age, wasting can be up to nine times higher in certain communities within countries, four times higher for stunting, and three times higher for overweight and obesity. For comparison between countries, the report finds that underweight persists in the poorest countries, with rates up to 10 times higher compared to the richest countries.
It is critically important to address inequities in food systems and make healthy, sustainable food the most accessible and affordable choice for all, the report authors note. The report outlines pathways that will allow us to achieve robust and sustainable food systems for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.
“Poor diets and resulting malnutrition are among the greatest current societal challenges, causing vast health, economic and environmental burdens. To fix the global nutrition crisis equitably, we must shift our approach dramatically in two ways: focusing on food and health,” the report’s executive summary states.
The authors argue that existing agriculture systems still focus on producing and providing relatively low-nutrient staple grains like rice, wheat, and maize rather than producing a broader range of more diverse foods, which are typically inaccessible or relatively expensive for vulnerable populations.
Biofortification can play a role in raising the nutritional value of staples for people who cannot afford or access more-diverse diets. Biofortification is the process of breeding staple food crops to contain higher micronutrient content. Biofortified staples can be a source of micronutrients throughout the life cycle: An infant’s good nutrition begins with a healthy mother who provides proper nutrition prenatally and during lactation, as well as adequate care during key phases of growth and development. Investing in food-based interventions like biofortification can help address inter-generational cycles of malnutrition and allow everyone to be able to afford and access more-nutritious food options.
HarvestPlus reaches smallholder farming families and other vulnerable groups in low- and middle-income countries with biofortified crops that are rich in zinc, iron, and vitamin A. These populations, including marginalized communities, are at high risk of micronutrient deficiency, or “hidden hunger,” with outcomes that include stunting, anemia, blindness, even premature death—especially for women and children. Hidden hunger also weakens immune systems, the first line of defense against many viruses and other health threats. Globally 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger and need food-based solutions to combat the detrimental consequences of undernourishment.
HarvestPlus and its partners aim to rapidly scale up cultivation and consumption of micronutrient-rich varieties of rice, wheat, maize, beans, pearl millet, cassava, and orange sweet potato especially in subsistence farming households for improving their nutritional status. So far, 8.5 million smallholder families have been growing these biofortified crops across the world reaching 42 million people.
Peer-reviewed, published research conducted in the past 16 years has shown the nutrition and health benefits of biofortified crops, their acceptance by farmers and consumers, and their cost- effectiveness. There are numerous reports from United Nations entities endorsing the role of biofortification in addressing global nutrition challenges. For a world without malnutrition, biofortification is a crucial contributing element of the evolving food systems for inclusive food security for families everywhere.