By Ronald Musoke
More than 275 high-level stakeholders from government, business and civil society have converged in Kigali today [March 31] for a three-day consultation to intensify efforts to get nutritious foods to people.
The conference is being hosted by Rwanda where more than 500,000 Rwandan farmers have already planted new varieties of beans that are rich in iron. These new iron beans also yield many more tonnes per hectare than the local varieties, and the surplus can be shared or sold.
Keynote speakers include M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned father of India’s Green Revolution; Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Programme at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and, Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013.
Over the next three years, the panel will convene a special session to explore how bio-fortification could help decision makers in developing nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food policies.
“The evidence is promising, and we now need to explore the potential for bio-fortification to enhance agriculture and food policies for nutrition,” said Jeff Waage, Technical Advisor to the Global Panel and Director of the London International Development Centre.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington-based food policy non-profit that seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty, nearly one in three people globally suffers from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, zinc and iron in the diet.
This condition – known as hidden hunger – increases the risk of stunting, anemia, blindness, infectious diseases, and even death. Women and children are especially vulnerable.
HarvestPlus, a global programme to improve nutrition and public health, has worked with partners to develop new varieties of nutritious food crops that provide more vitamin A, zinc, or iron.
These crops – already being grown by more than a million farmers – have been conventionally bred. They include cassava, maize and orange sweet potato for vitamin A; beans and pearl millet for iron; and rice and wheat for zinc.
Studies have shown that these new varieties do provide nutritional benefits to consumers.
“We’re just beginning to scratch the surface…we want to increase access to these nutritious crops as quickly as possible. Now is the time to bring partners together to figure out how we do this together,” said Howarth Bouis, the Director of HarvestPlus.