HarvestPlus today welcomed a major new commitment by the government of the United Kingdom to support research in biofortified crops aimed at improving the health and nutrition of nearly 14 million households in low- and middle-income countries by 2022.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) said the 33 million pound (approximately $42 million) commitment will go in part to fund work of the HarvestPlus biofortification program, which focuses on eight crops: iron beans and pearl millet; vitamin A maize, cassava, and sweet potato; and zinc maize, rice, and wheat. More than 200 HarvestPlus-supported biofortified crop varieties have been released or are in testing so far in 30 countries.
DFID’s announcement also coincided with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where a garden sponsored by Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) and supported by DFID features iron-biofortified beans and vitamin A maize supplied by HarvestPlus in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, respectively. The garden won a gold medal in the Flower Show’s “Space to Grow” category.
“By harnessing climate and nutrition-smart technologies like biofortified crops, we can improve the livelihoods of thousands of women and girls,” said DFID Chief Scientist Charlotte Watts in a press release from DFID about the new funding. “These crops are not just more resilient to droughts and diseases but provide a sustainable source of much needed nutrients to rural communities.”
HarvestPlus was founded in 2003 and pioneered the process of crop biofortification, which involves using conventional plant breeding methods to enhance the micronutrient content of staple crops so that regular consumption improves nutrition and health. It targets resource-poor families or rural communities relying on staple crops for much of their diet. Biofortified crops also have attractive agronomic properties such as high yield, virus and pest resistance and heat or drought tolerance.
Howarth Bouis, founder and interim chief executive officer of HarvestPlus, hailed the DFID announcement. “DFID’s consistent support for HarvestPlus over the years has allowed us and our many partners to deliver nutritious, biofortified crops to nearly 40 million people in smallholder farm households in low- and middle-income countries. This new support from DFID will accelerate plans for a significant scaling up of biofortification’s reach in coming years,” Bouis said.
DFID said the new funding will also support work in biofortification by the International Potato Center (CIP). Both CIP and HarvestPlus are part of the CGIAR, a partnership of 15 agricultural research centers located around the world. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and is based at the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the CGIAR research centers.
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