Development paradigms: an evaluation of the green, gene and digital revolution

Biofortification –  from Franz W. Gatzweiler and Joachim von Braun (2016) – Technological and Institutional Innovations for Marginalized Smallholders in Agricultural Development
In the area of FNS, biotechnology plays a supportive role through tissue culture in
the quest for more effective and beneficial traits and genetic engineering technology.
Genetic engineering has been used widely but has mostly concentrated on
increasing resistance to environmental stresses, pests, and diseases. However,
recent developments in biotechnology have moved in another direction: high
yield crops and more nutritious crops and animal products. In order to bring some
of these benefits to the poor, who typically lack access to nutritious foods, such as
fruits, vegetables, and animal source foods (fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products)
and rely heavily on staple foods, there is a need for staple-related biotechnology.
One of the new platform technologies in this area is biofortification, a process of
introducing nutrients into staple foods. Biofortification can be conducted through conventional plant breeding, agronomic practices such as the application of fertilizers
to increase zinc and selenium content, or transgenetic techniques (Bouis
et al. 2011). The smallholder farmers cultivate a large variety of food crops
developed by national agricultural research centers with the support of the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). One of the global
initiatives for biofortification is known as HarvestPlus.3 Biofortification provides a
large outreach, as it is accessible to the malnourished rural population which is less
exposed to the fortified food in markets and supplementation programs. By design,
biofortification initially targets the more remote population in the country and is
expanded later to urban populations. To be successful, i.e., to improve people’s
absorption and assimilation of micronutrients, biofortification should meet several
challenges, some of which require additional accompanying interventions: successful
breeding in terms of high yields and profitability, making sure nutrients of
biofortified staple foods are preserved during processing and cooking, the degree of
adoption and acceptance by farmers and consumers, and the coverage rate (the
proportion of biofortified staples in production and consumption) (Nestel
et al. 2006; Meenakshi et al. 2010; Bouis et al. 2011). The development of
biofortification is outlined in Table 3.2. In the case of food processing, Meenakshi
et al. (2010) estimated that the greatest processing losses are in the case of cassava
in Africa, where the loss of vitamin A during the cooking process is between 70 %
and 90 %. For other staple crops such as sweet potato and rice, the processing loss
can be anticipated, as both staple foods are consumed in boiled form.
Biofortification has been implemented in several countries of Asia and Africa
(Table 3.3). A number of crops are biofortified, including rice, wheat, maize,
cassava, pearl millet, beans, and sweet potato, depending on the national context.
Biofortification is found to be cost-effective in terms of the moderate breeding
costs, which amount to approximately 0.2 % of the global vitamin A supplementation
(Beyer 2010), while the benefit is far higher than the cost.4 Compared with
other types of interventions, such as supplementation and food fortification,
biofortification seems more cost-effective.5 Nevertheless, biofortification is not
without its limitations, as it might not be viable for application in all plants. For
instance, from a breeding perspective, the breeding system of some plants is very
complex (Beyer 2010). In Uganda, banana is the primrary staple food, accounting for
a per capita per year consumption of nearly 200 kg. However, the vitamin and

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