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An index to tackle ‘hidden hunger’

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The problem of “hidden hunger” – deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals – continues to pose serious threats to populations and economies around the world. A lack of micronutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A in diets can lead to stunting, anemia, blindness, disease or even death, particularly for women and for children under the age of five. One solution has been found in biofortification, a technology pioneered by CGIAR, led by researchers at the HarvestPlus Program, and developed in partnership with national agricultural research systems and farmers around the world. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). 

Biofortification involves breeding crops to enhance their nutritional content, increase yields, and boost resilience to climate extremes, diseases, and pests. The innovative technology targets rural farming families in developing countries who rely on homegrown, inexpensive, but not very nourishing staple crops. Biofortification provides much-needed food and nutrition security through the foods these families produce and consume every day. 

The user-friendly tool is designed to guide strategic decisions for investment, policy and practice pertaining to the introduction and scaling of biofortified staples.

Given the potential of this technology to improve food systems, CGIAR scientists at HarvestPlus in 2013 developed the Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) with an aim to help guide biofortification interventions so that they are as targeted, cost-effective, and impactful as possible. 

The BPI is an interactive tool that helps identify in which countries, and for which staple crops, biofortification can make the greatest impact on micronutrient deficiencies. The user-friendly tool is designed to guide strategic decisions for investment, policy and practice pertaining to the introduction and scaling of biofortified staples.  

Using a methodology akin to the Human Development Index together with the most recent national-level data on micronutrient deficiency rates for vitamin A, iron and zinc, and on consumption and production of key biofortifiable staples, the BPI ranks 128 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean regions according to their potential for impact from biofortification of local staples.   

The result is a clear prioritization of where biofortification interventions are most suitable – whether for investments in crop development or for introduction and scaling. The latest version of the tool also includes key evidence and facts about each biofortified crop, as well as information on where biofortified crops are being tested and released – making the BPI a one-stop shop for anyone interested in the development and scaling of this technology. 

The tool is being used by crop breeders to guide or confirm decisions on research prioritiesby civil society organizations and the private sector to make decisions on target locations for programs and interventions, and by international finance institutions and governments to make decisions on investments. 

 

Header photo: A farmer inspecting maize biofortified with zinc in Colombia. Photo by HarvestPlus.

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