Biofortified crops: Connecting value chain actors and policymakers in Bangladesh
HarvestPlus - Bangladesh Initiative to Enhance Nutrition Security and Governance (BIeNGS) Project organized a roundtable titled "Biofortified crops: Connecting value chain actors and policymakers in Bangladesh" on November 13, 2022. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR and is based at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a CGIAR research center. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
Md Khairul Bashar, PhD, Country Manager, HarvestPlus Bangladesh
Bangladesh have self-sufficiency in food security, but nutrition deficiency is still high. About 28 per cent of children aged under 5 in the country do not get enough zinc in their diets. The farm families cannot afford nutritionally diverse diets and not easily reached by food fortification or supplementation initiatives. Biofortification has been proven to be a strong alternative in the combat of hidden hunger all over the world. Biofortification is the process of increasing the density of micronutrients in staple crops through conventional breeding techniques, agronomic practices, or genetic modification.
HarvestPlus-Bangladesh strategized its delivery from crop development to popularizing among farm community and scaling up production and commercialization including policy advocacy and communication. Up to 2021, through support from HarvestPlus program, ten zinc rice, one wheat and three pulse varieties were released by BRRI, BSMRAU, BINA, BWMRI and BARI subsequently in Bangladesh. About 3.1 million HH reached directly with biofortified crops' seed and 18,000 MT zinc rice aggregated & milled for the consumers.
To boost and root biofortified crop mainstreaming of biofortification is needed in crop development, seed multiplication and extension through public and private sectors. Inclusion of biofortified rice in social safety net programs will also create another market for this specialized crop.
MA Saleque, PhD, Deputy Country Manager, HarvestPlus Bangladesh
The 54-month long BleNGS Project co-funded by the European Union started on September 1, 2018 in three upazilas of each Jamalpur and Sherpur districts in partnership with World Vision Bangladesh, Unnayan Sangha and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Around 6,240 demonstration plots of biofortified crops were established with other awareness raising events by the project. Focusing of nutrition governance all departments are aware now about biofortified zinc rice in the region. The local Government and private sector have taken up it for commercialization. Project's Local advocacy meetings recommendations are required more investment in the extension, start up support in new areas and availability of seed in local markets.
Md Harun or Rashid, a consumer in Islampur Upazila of Jamalpur
HarvestPlus has helped me by giving seeds of zinc rice varieties like BRRI dhan72, Bangabandhu dhan100, and BRRI dhan62. I started with BRRI dhan72 the crops are yielded better than previous crops. Our children not getting sick and have healthy mental & physical growth owing to zinc rice.
Md Kadem Ali, a farmer in Jamalpur Sadar Upazila
Last year, HarvestPlus gave us seeds of BRRI dhan74 to grow crops. We got good yield. We also kept the seeds of BRRI dhan74 and distributed in our areas.
Mostafa Faruque Al Banna, Associate Research Director- FPMU (Food Planning and Monitoring Unit), Ministry of Food
If we want to ensure nutrition-sensitive social protection, then the inclusion of biofortified zinc rice in social safety net programs is very important. It is important to identify such pocket areas where zinc deficiency is high to include biofortified zinc rice of those areas' social safety net programs.
Dr Mary Rashid, Team Leader, BIeNGS project, World Vision
We need to design a comprehensive initiative that includes nutrition-specific components to bring better nutrition outcomes. It requires organizational design and appropriate capacity building of all entities. We are working with the government and relevant departments so that our learnings can be mainstreamed through the core national programs.
Dr Rudaba Khondker, Country Director, The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Govt has enacted a number of good policies. Now those policies need to be implemented by the Govt Institute/ Departments for mainstreaming. The leadership should come from the government so that we can track the progress of the biofortification initiatives properly. Currently, we are working with HarvestPlus on the commercialization of biofortified rice and we need to work more closely in future.
Saiqa Siraj, Country Director, Nutrition International (NI)
Biofortification is already in the national policies and international commitment of Bangladesh. As the food price is high and there is an overall crisis in the global economy, the dependency on rice in Bangladesh will increase in the next two years. Therefore, this is high time we took coordinated actions and reached the most vulnerable population with biofortified rice.
Md Shahjahan Kabir, PhD, Director General, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI)
BRRI developed biofortified zinc rice varieties are cultivating in favorable work environment. BRRI currently working to developed stress tolerant biofortified rice variety and also have plan to mainstream the biofortification in the future breeding program.
Md Benojir Alam, Director General, Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE)
Biofortified zinc rice is vital for us as our people do not get a sufficient amount of nutritious food. Biofortified zinc rice is now being cultivated in both the Aman and Boro season. So, we need to increase the demonstration of zinc biofortified rice for people who are suffering from a lack of nutritious foods.
Margherita Capalbi, Programme Manager, Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Delegation of the European Union in Bangladesh
According to National Nutrition Service findings, micro-nutritional deficiency is prevalent among children under five and women. The European Union (EU) is committed to support Bangladesh in achieving SDG-2 (zero hunger). The EU is supporting the country with the food and nutrition program to promote nutrition and reduce all forms of malnutrition with special attention to adolescent girls, children and women.
Md Sayedul Islam, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture
We have to ensure food security as well as nutrition security in our country. We are almost sufficient in food and rice, but hidden hunger prevails. We are concerned about the poorest section of the country who are suffering from micro-nutritional deficiency and their staple food is rice. So, biofortification is an excellent idea to minimize the problem. Our ministry and research organizations are closely working on it. We have high yielding rice varieties for Boro season but now we need to focus on the Aman and Aus seasons. Zinc biofortified rice varieties have to be high yielding, otherwise farmers would not be interested in cultivating them. The food ministry can play a very important role in procuring biofortified rice varieties.
Shaikh Mohammad Bokhtiar, PhD, Executive Chairman, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC)
Dr Howarth Bouis, who discovered the idea of biofortification, highlighted three Ds (discovery, development, and dissemination) to make the biofortification initiative successful. Although rice is the country's staple food, we need to think about the biofortification of some other staple crops.
- More investment for research, extension, and seed production of biofortified crops.
- Inclusion of biofortified zinc rice in social safety net programs to ensure nutrition-sensitive social protection.
- The production and marketing channels need to be strengthened so that biofortified rice can reach to everyone.
- The seeds of biofortified zinc varieties must be high yielding and profitable for farmers.
- Biofortification of non-rice staple crops should be taken in the research agenda.