Breeding and disseminating micronutrient-rich crop varieties -biofortification -could be a cost-effective strategy to increase micronutrient intake such as iron and zinc among smallholder farming
communities, once the biofortified varieties are adopted at large scale.
To fight iron deficiency, ICRISAT has developed, under the CGIAR's Harvest Plus program and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health CRP, a biofortified iron-rich pearl millet, an important staple food among rural poor in Western India.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that pearl millet bred to contain more iron and zinc can provide young children with their full daily iron and zinc needs."
Under the INSTAPA project, ICRISAT is studying the potential of biofortification in Africa.
Sorghum in Mali is always consumed in the decorticated form (de-branning or dehulling). The retention of minerals (eg iron or zinc) after manual decortication is as high as 44% (ref INSTAPA - Mali biofortification work)
- Bioavailability of micronutrients
Bioavailability of micronutrients (which refers to the effective uptake of nutrients by the body after digestion) depends on the presence of anti-nutritional factors (eg phytates), and the way staple crops are processed and prepared. For instance, ICRISAT is studying the impact of processing methods for dryland cereals, such as malting and fermentation, on the bioavailability of micronutrients. Recipes are also being tested such as adding vitamin C which can increase nutrient uptake.
Ensuring that farmers produce safe crops and food is important. Aflatoxins for instance are poisonous toxins produced by fungi infecting crops such as groundnuts, sorghum, cassava and maize. More than five billion people in the developing world are exposed to aflatoxin by unknowingly consuming contaminated foods.
The kits enhance food safety for consumers and supports trade and income generation activities that boosts producer incomes. Studies show that when poor women have access to cash, much of it used to purchase more nutritious food for their families.
The Agribusiness Innovation Platform carries out food processing and nutrition research on ICRISAT mandate crops. In vitro bioavailability will soon be studied under simulated gut conditions in the lab to test nutrient absorption rates for various crop varieties and products.
Promoting public private partnerships, ABI incubates innovations that benefit farming communities, as well as enhancing value chains of these under-utilized crops. In particular, the NutriPlus Knowledge Program , helps transform the results of that research into products and processes, such as healthy sorghum or millet snacks.
The treatment of severe malnutrition in complex environments such as humanitarian operations includes ready-to-eat therapeutic feeding solutions using some of ICRISAT mandate crops such as groundnut and chickpea (eg groundnut-based Plumpynut or chickpea "Wawa Mum" paste). ICRISAT is exploring partnerships with this sector.
- Influencing policies for sustainable nutrition action
Policies can promote better nutrition and agriculture, by encouraging demand and consumption of grain legumes and nutri cereals like sorghum and millets. It could be by including these crops in school feeding schemes like in Tamil Nadu, India. The Home Grown School Feeding programme is a very promising movement looking at procuring traditional nutritious food from local farmers for schools.
Seed policies should create incentives for farmers to grow such nutritious and resilient crops, and develop appropriate seed systems for dryland cereals and grain legumes like in Malawi for legume certified seed production. Another striking partnership is the HOPE World Food Programme P4P partnership where farmer groups in Mali could supply the humanitarian grain reserves with their sorghum production.