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An overview of biofortification in Africa

Research snapshot1

Biofortification is the process of breeding nutrients into staple food crops to help reduce mineral and vitamin deficiencies. It is recognised by the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Movement as an important link in the chain between agriculture and nutrition. It offers a cost-effective and sustainable investment as, unlike the ongoing financial outlays required for supplementation and commercial fortification programmes, a one-time investment in plant breeding can yield micronutrient-rich planting materials for farmers to grow for years to come.

There are three common approaches to biofortification: agronomic, conventional and transgenic. Agronomic biofortification provides temporary micronutrient increases through fertilizers and/or foliar sprays and is useful to increase micronutrients absorbed directly by the plant. Conventional plant breeding involves identifying and developing parent lines with naturally high vitamin or mineral levels and crossing them over several generations to produce plants with desired nutrient and agronomic traits. Transgenic plant breeding seeks to do the same in crops where the target nutrient does not naturally exist by inserting genes from another species. The special issue of AJFAND focuses on conventionally bred, biofortified varieties of staple food crops as currently little evidence exists on the use of agronomic biofortification and transgenic biofortified crops in Africa.

A three-stage process takes biofortification strategies from research to delivery (see Figure 1). Methodologies have been developed over the years to calculate the levels of extra minerals and/or vitamins required in diets to have a measurable public health impact. Resulting nutrient targets are used by economists and nutritionists to calculate the cost-effectiveness of biofortification strategies. This then guides donor investments in the development and testing of biofortified staple food crop varieties (calculation methodologies are described in detail in the AJFAND edition).

Since 2012, biofortification has moved significantly into the delivery phase in several African countries; several case studies are written up in this special issue. With strong proof-of-concept for biofortification, moving towards scale will require increased public and private sector investment in crop development and seed systems to sustain the pipeline of biofortified varieties. 

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Endnotes 

1Bouis H, Saltzman A, Low J, Ball A and Covic N. (2017) An overview of the landscape and approach for biofortification in Africa. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2017. https://www.ajfand.net/Volume17/No2/index.html

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Reference this page

An overview of biofortification in Africa. Field Exchange 55, July 2017. p23. www.ennonline.net/fex/55/biofortificationinafrica