In a decisive step toward making Tanzania’s food systems more nutritious and inclusive, the government has formally issued guidelines for biofortification activity across seed and food value chains. The guidelines will provide an essential point of reference for value chain participants, helping to spur faster integration and scale up of biofortified seeds, grains, and foods.
Biofortification is the process of increasing the density of vitamins and minerals in staple crops. HarvestPlus works with partners worldwide to develop and promote biofortified varieties of staples that are conventionally bred to be rich in iron, zinc, or vitamin A. In Tanzania, currently available biofortified crops include iron beans, vitamin A maize, and vitamin A orange sweet potato.
Biofortification-related policies and guidelines are on the books in 24 countries worldwide as well as in several global and regional bodies, but Tanzania’s National Biofortification Guidelines stand out for their level of detail and comprehensive approach to fostering activity all along value chains—in seed variety development, crop production, processing, storage, distribution, and consumption.
The guidelines take a holistic view of food systems, malnutrition, and nutrition interventions, and include a review of how different strategies to combat malnutrition (including biofortification) can interact and support each other in complementary ways. The guidelines also have key definitions for biofortification and biofortified products, with published standards on the amounts of nutrients required in a given crop or food to be designated as biofortified.
“It is my hope that this guideline (sic) will be used effectively and will contribute to the control of nutrient deficiencies in various age groups,” Gerald M. Kusaya, permanent secretary in the Minister of Agriculture, writes in the guidelines’ Foreward. He adds: “This will enable the country to have healthy people who will actively participate in economic activities, including agriculture, and thus contribute to national economic development and enable the country to enter the middle economy as the National Development Vision 2025 sets out.”
HarvestPlus provided key support
HarvestPlus provided technical support on biofortification to Nutrition International (NI), which worked closely with the government on producing the guidelines; this was part of NI’s work under the Enhancing Nutrition Services to Improve Maternal and Child Health in Africa and Asia (ENRICH) program, which is funded by Global Affairs Canada.
HarvestPlus assisted with a local specialist technical agency by providing technical information in all sections of the guidelines. Topics covers span from a description of the conventional breeding methods used to develop biofortified crop varieties, information on currently available varieties, approaches to strengthening the value chain, and scaling biofortified food consumption.
In May, when the guidelines were first announced but not yet issued, the Tanzanian Government recognized the work of NI and its partners in supporting nutrition programs in the country, particularly their assistance in developing the biofortification guidelines. “Production and use of biofortified crops will help to reduce micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron,” said Minister of Agriculture Japhet Ngailonga Hasunga at the time.
The Tanzanian government is strongly committed to reducing malnutrition, and recent results have been impressive: Among children under five years of age, the level of stunting decreased from 42 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2018. “We share the common vision and collective spirit to further reduce hidden hunger in Tanzania with nutritious food systems,” said Prof. Siza Tumbo, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture.
Guidelines timely for GAIN-HarvestPlus project
The guidelines come just as the Commercialisation of Bioforitified Crops Programme (CBC), a joint initiative of HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), gets under way in Tanzania. The CBC focuses on catalyzing increased commercial market activity in biofortified crops and foods through a full value chain approach, and aims to reach 7.2 million Tanzanian consumers by the end of 2022. This program is an ideal vehicle for translating the guidelines into concrete action.
The Tanzania guidelines also reflect a growing wave of government interest worldwide in scaling up biofortification. For example, the Government of Bihar State in India, which has the highest rate of stunting in India, recently committed to significantly scaling up production of zinc-biofortified wheat seed, while the Government of Guatemala included biofortified crops in an emergency reserve established as part of a national post-COVID-19 recovery plan.