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biofortification

Biofortification to fight Malnutrition

Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology. Biofortification differs from conventional fortification in that biofortification aims to increase nutrient levels in crops during plant growth rather than through manual means during processing of the crops. Biofortification may therefore present a way to reach populations where supplementation and conventional fortification activities may be difficult to implement and/or limited.

Fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient, i.e. vitamins and minerals (including trace elements) in a food, so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.

Strategies to control Malnutrition:

1.Food Fortification: Food fortification is the public health policy of adding micronutrients (essential trace
elements and vitamins) to foodstuffs to ensure that minimum dietary requirements are met.
2.Supplementation: Supplements containing vitamins or dietary minerals are included as a category of food.
3.Biofortification: Generating genetically improved food crops that are rich in bioavailable micronutrients, either through conventional breeding or genetic modification

Biofortification Vs Fortification:

biofortification vs fortification

Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology. Biofortification differs from conventional fortification in that biofortification aims to increase nutrient levels in crops during plant growth rather than through manual means during processing of the crops. Biofortification may therefore present a way to reach populations where supplementation and conventional fortification activities may be difficult to implement and/or limited.

Examples of biofortification projects include:

  • iron-biofortification of rice, beans, sweet potato, cassava and legumes;
  • zinc-biofortification of wheat, rice, beans, sweet potato and maize;
  • provitamin A carotenoid-biofortification of sweet potato, maize and cassava; and
  • amino acid and protein-biofortification of sourghum and cassava.

Techniques of Biofortification:

1.Agronomical Biofortification:Agronomic practices such as application of fertilisers to increase zinc and selenium content of plants grown on soils poor in such minerals.

2.Conventional Plant breeding:

Biofortified crops can be developed by traditional breeding methods, provided sufficient genetic variation in crop populations for the desired trait such as high betacarotene content. The most
significant, systematic and symbolic programme of biofortification through conventional breeding is ‘HarvestPlus’. It focuses on breeding increased levels of three nutrients (iron, zinc and pro-vitamin A) in seven staple crops (beans, cassava, maize, rice, wheat, sweet potato and pearl millet).
 
3.Genetic modifications in the industry can be simply distributed into two distinct group’s viz. Agronomic and Nutritional GM.
Agronomic modifications: Aim to help the plant grow better. The most common GM food crops are herbicide-resistant soybeans and pest-resistant maize. But current research, with global warming and water scarcity in prospect, also focuses on drought and salinity resistant varieties of many crops.
Nutritional modifications:Aim to improve the nutrient profiles of crops. They add nutrients totally absent from all varieties of a plant, or present only in small amounts. In such cases, improving nutrient profiles through conventional breeding is not possible

Advantages of Biofortification:

1.After the initial investment to develop the biofortified seed, it can be replicated and distributed without any reduction in the micronutrient concentration. This makes it highly cost-effective and sustainable. 2.Biofortified crops are also often more resilient to pests, diseases, higher temperatures and drought – essential qualities as many countries become increasingly susceptible to climate change.

3.And, perhaps most importantly for nutrition, biofortified crops reach the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

4.Each new biofortified crop requires meticulous development and evaluation to ensure the micronutrient concentration is sufficient to make a significant impact on nutritional status, and that farmers and consumers will adopt the new biofortified varieties. Research has shown high levels of consumer acceptance, especially when information and awareness campaigns were implemented.

Challenges for the Adoption of Biotech Biofortified Crops

  • A major problem of developing fortified crops is the cost of research and of regulatory compliance, due to due to the extreme precautionary regulation of biotech crops.
  • In the case of biofortified crops, where profit margins for private technology developers are slim, the scarcity of public funds exacerbates this problem
  • GM technology tends to be proprietary, so intellectual property (IP) issues also need to be duly considered. As many as 16 patent and 72 intellectual property issues had to be resolved in the process of making Golden Rice available to poor farmers at no cost
  • A successful biofortification strategy requires widespread adoption of the crops by farmers and consumers, and this presents several important challenges .
  • Public acceptance is also essential, especially if the new trait changes perceptibly the qualities of the crop, such as color (like in Golden Rice), taste, and dry matter content. Adequate information programs will play an essential role in ensuring acceptance.
  • Wide dissemination of the technology, a requisite for success, also relies on good market networks and channels for the dissemination of agricultural information.
  • The lack of agricultural infrastructure in some developing countries, especially in Africa, is a significant challenge for adoption of new biofortified varieties.

Madhuban Gajar:

Madhuban Gajar, a biofortified carrot variety with high β-carotene and iron content developed by Shri Vallabhhai Vasrambhai Marvaniya, a farmer scientist from Junagadh district, Gujarat is benefitting more than 150 local farmers in the area. It is being planted in an area of over 200 hectares in Junagadh, and the average yield, which is 40-50 t/ha, has become the main source of income to the local farmers. The variety is being cultivated in more than 1000 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh during the last three years. 

The Madhuvan Gajar is a highly nutritious carrot variety developed through the selection methodwith higher β-carotene content (277.75 mg/kg) and iron content (276.7 mg/kg) dry basis and is used for various value-added products like carrot chips, juices, and pickles. Among all the varieties tested, beta-carotene and iron content were found to be superior. 

National Innovation Foundation (NIF) – India, an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology,Govt. of India conducted validation trials for this variety at Rajasthan Agricultural Research Institute (RARI), Jaipur, between 2016 and 2017.

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