HarvestPlus: Reducing micronutrient malnutrition

Since 2004, alongside 70 partner organizations in more than 40 countries, HarvestPlus, which is supported by several transformational donors including the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), has sought to reduce micronutrient malnutrition through biofortification. This means conventionally breeding staple food crops with higher levels of key micronutrients—namely, iron, vitamin A, and zinc—identified by the World Health Organization as among the most limited in developing world diets. HarvestPlus targets staple crops that comprise the majority of the diets of the poor and malnourished in Asia and Africa.

By the end of 2016, biofortified crops from HarvestPlus and partners had reached 26 million people. A pilot dissemination project to promote vitamin A–biofortified orange-fleshed sweet potato (OSP) among rural farming communities in Africa doubled vitamin A intake among women and children in Mozambique; in Uganda, it increased children’s vitamin A intake by two-thirds and improved their vitamin A status. These findings were published in the British Journal of Nutrition and the Journal of Nutrition and attracted significant media coverage. Here are some other notable achievements of HarvestPlus:

  • By the end of 2016, more than 100 varieties of 10 crops were being tested or are already available in more than 50 countries.
  • In Nigeria, vitamin A cassava planting material has been distributed to 2.5 million people.
  • In Rwanda, 10 high-iron bean varieties have been released since 2010, and by 2015 three in 10 farmers had already planted at least one iron bean variety. A recent efficacy study showed that iron-biofortified beans reduced anemia and iron deficiency in Rwandan women in under five months.
  • In India, through a partnership with a private seed company, high-iron pearl millet reached 1 million people by 2015. An efficacy study found that regular consumption of iron pearl millet could reverse iron deficiency in school-aged children in six months; further analysis shows nutritional improvements were accompanied by functional outcomes, including increased physical activity and cognitive function.
  • In Bangladesh, HarvestPlus reached 160,000 households with zinc rice in 2015, far exceeding the original target of 11,000 households.
  • In Brazil, in a joint effort with Embrapa (the state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), HarvestPlus is introducing biofortified products in the school meals of 50,000 children.

In recognition of the successes associated with biofortification, the 2016 World Food Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for Agriculture and Nutrition, was awarded to HarvestPlus founder Dr. Howarth “Howdy” Bouis, along with three colleagues from the International Potato Center (CIP). In addition, OSP was recognized by TIME magazine as one of the top 25 innovations of 2016. Also in 2016, HarvestPlus was named as one of eight semi-finalists for the 100&Change grant, a US$100 million award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in a competition that seeks “bold solutions to critical problems of our time.” With the help of partners such as DFID, HarvestPlus is confident that it can reach 100 million people by 2020 and one billion people by 2030, helping to drastically reduce micronutrient malnutrition.