Biofortified crops offer a rural-based intervention that, by design, initially reach these more remote populations, which comprise a majority of the undernourished in many countries, and then extend to urban populations as production surpluses are marketed. In this way, biofortification complements fortification and supplementation programs, which work best in centralized urban areas and then reach into rural areas only in areas with good infrastructure. Initial investments in agricultural research at a central location can generate high recurrent benefits at low cost as adapted biofortified varieties become available in country after country across time at low recurrent costs.
HarvestPlus seeks to develop and distribute varieties of food staples (rice, wheat, maize, cassava, sweetpotato, beans, and pearl millet) which are high in iron, zinc, and provitamin A through a global alliance of scientific institutions and implementing agencies in developing and developed countries. Biofortification demands the application of cutting edge interdisciplinary research representing plant breeding, molecular biology, human nutrition, food science, farm extension, communications, and economics.
In broad terms, three things must happen for biofortification to be successful. First, the breeding must be successful – high nutrient density must be combined with high yields and high profitability. Second, efficacy must be demonstrated – the micronutrient status of human subjects must be shown to improve when consuming the biofortified varieties as normally consumed. Thus, sufficient nutrients must be retained in processing and cooking and these nutrients must be sufficiently bioavailable. Third, the biofortified crops must be adopted by farmers and consumed by those suffering from micronutrient malnutrition.
Howarth Bouis, in his position as Director of HarvestPlus, coordinates an interdisciplinary, global alliance of research centers and implementing agencies to biofortify and disseminate micronutrient-dense staple food crops and to measure their impact in improving nutrition. Since 1993, he has sought to promote biofortification activities both within the Future Harvest Centers, including their NARES partners, and in the international nutrition community — through publications, seminars, workshops, symposiums, and fund-raising. Bouis holds a joint appointment at the International Food Policy Research Institute (Washington, D.C.) where he is based, and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) (Cali, Colombia). He received his B.A. in economics from Stanford University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University’s Food Research Institute. He joined IFPRI in 1982, as a post-doctoral fellow in the Food Consumption and Nutrition Division (FCND), and later as Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow in FCND. His research concentrated on understanding how economic factors affect food demand and nutrition outcomes, particularly in Asia. Before entering graduate school, he spent three years in the Philippines with Volunteers in Asia.