HarvestPlus, World Food Programme Release Joint Brief on Biofortification

HarvestPlus and the World Food Programme (WFP) have released a joint brief that highlights the significant role of nutrient-enriched biofortified crops in improving global nutrition and food security, especially for the world’s most vulnerable households. 

The brief, Biofortification: A Food Systems Approach to Ensuring Healthy Diets Globally, comes as HarvestPlus and WFP are working to “leverage one another’s expertise, experience, and reach to improve nutrition and food security” and “increase the uptake of biofortified crops and foods,” writes Valerie N. Guarnieri, Assistant Executive Director for Programme and Policy Development at WFP, and Arun Baral, CEO of HarvestPlus, in the brief’s Forward. 

The document showcases examples of WFP/HarvestPlus collaborations in supporting country-level initiatives to scale up biofortified seeds, crops, and foods, and identifies opportunities to integrate biofortified crops and foods in the global agency’s procurement policies and in other relevant WFP programs.    

The brief provides basic information about biofortification and how it plays a central role in global efforts by the CGIAR (of which HarvestPlus is a part) to improve the nutrition and health of vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries. It highlights the robust evidence based on the agricultural benefits of biofortified crops, their acceptance by farmers and consumers, and the crops’ nutritional and health benefits. Drawing on this evidence, the brief shows how “nutrient-enriched crops can help sustainably transform food systems to deliver healthier diets.” 

Biofortified crops promoted by HarvestPlus are currently available in 30 countries and are benefiting nearly 10 million smallholder farming households who are growing, consuming, and trading in these crops. The crops promoted by HarvestPlus include vitamin A maize, sweet potato, and cassava; iron bean and pearl millet; and zinc wheat, rice, and maize. 

Empowering Smallholder Farmers to be Food System Change Agents

NOTE: This article was first published on farmingfirst.org and is reposted here with the permission of Farming First. 

The Nutrition for Growth Year of Action got off to an auspicious start at a virtual launch event last month, where prominent stakeholders announced investment commitments of more than $3 billion toward the upcoming Nutrition for Growth Summit‘s goal of addressing the hunger and nutrition crisis.

Separately, the UN is convening a Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September to identify strategies for making food and agriculture systems not only more nutritious but also more equitable, environmentally sustainable, and resilient to shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic’s serious impacts on health, well-being, and economies have heightened the sense of urgency to ensure that food systems can deliver nutritious diets to everyone, under any conditions. But food systems transformation will only happen if we succeed in engaging and empowering the hundreds of millions of smallholder farming families around the world who are highly vulnerable to malnutrition.

These families work three-quarters of all agricultural land and their diets depend primarily on what they grow. In Africa, 80 per cent of farms ­– 40 million across the continent – are of smallholder size. Often, these smallholders lack the means and the financial incentives to produce more nutritious foods for themselves, as well as for those who purchase from them.

Biofortification: A proven and scalable solution  

There is one proven, agriculture-based strategy, specifically tailored to smallholder families, which should be part of the solution toward food systems transformation: biofortified staple crops. These are varieties of rice, wheat, maize, beans, and other common staples that have been conventionally bred to contain nutritionally-significant levels of iron, zinc and/or vitamin A—all micronutrients that are essential for maintaining good health and ensuring proper mental and physical development in children. Biofortified crops are scientifically proven to improve nutrition and health outcomes when eaten regularly.

Biofortification research began in the 1990s within the CGIAR international agricultural research partnership, under the leadership of the HarvestPlus programme, as a response to widespread micronutrient deficiency among the world’s rural poor. The first biofortified crop variety was officially released to farmers in 2004 (a vitamin A orange sweet potato variety in Uganda).

Biofortified crops make nutrition accessible to farming families: They are one-for-one replacements for the lower-nutrient staple varieties that these families already grow. There is no sacrifice in yield or other agronomic traits important to farmers. These crops are also affordable for smallholder farming families, requiring no additional investment, and deliver micronutrients less expensively than typically higher-nutrient foods such as fruits, vegetables, and animal source products, which tend to be too costly for these families.

Biofortified crops also provide livelihood opportunities for farmers as well as small-scale entrepreneurs. SME food businesses are springing up throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America to develop and sell food products with biofortified ingredients, creating a market for smallholders’ biofortified crops and an attractive financial incentive to grow them.

Most significantly in the Covid-19 era, biofortified crops also provide key micronutrients (particularly zinc and vitamin A) that boost health resilience by strengthening immune systems. Furthermore, since the micronutrients are delivered through staple foods, they are more likely to reach and benefit female household members. Research has shown that, in many rural regions, male household members have preferential access to animal source foods and other higher-nutrient food items.

Currently, more than 340 varieties of 11 staple crops are available to farmers in 40 countries, benefiting about 50 million smallholder family members. The CGIAR research centers provide biofortified varieties as public goods to countries, where national agricultural researchers work with farmers to adapt these varieties to local conditions and farmer preferences.

Biofortified crops are ready for rapid scale-up, based on this extensive proof of concept under real-world conditions. The HarvestPlus goal is to work with multiple partners to reach one billion people with these nutritious crops by 2030.

Strong interest among policymakers

There is strong and growing interest among national leaders for scaling up biofortification in their countries. In just the past few months, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a public declaration in favor of biofortified crops and their integration in nationwide food assistance programmes.

Tanzania released comprehensive biofortification guidelines that provide welcome guidance for farmers and food businesses. And Guatemala’s government included biofortified crops in a new national strategic food reserve that is part of a new Covid-19 economic recovery plan. These and other leaders recognise the valuable role biofortification can play in better food systems.

Commitments at this year’s two summits to scaling up biofortification will show that the international community has the interests of the most vulnerable rural families top of mind. Biofortified crops are an equitable, inclusive, and complementary response to global malnutrition that put positive food systems change in the hands of these families.

Andrew Natsios served as Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development from 2001-2006. He is Advisory Committee Chair of HarvestPlus, and executive professor at the Bush School and director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A&M University.

Global improvement in dietary quality could reduce premature deaths

Improving dietary quality around the world could prevent more than 11 million premature deaths—roughly 24% of the total deaths in 2017—according to a new studyled by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

To estimate diet-related health outcomes for millions of people around the world, researchers used the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), which is used to score a person’s diet based on the quality of the food they eat and is a strong predictor of major chronic diseases. The AHEI rates dietary quality on a score of 0 to 110, with higher scores indicating healthier diets.

The study, published online May 2, 2019 in The Journal of Nutrition, found that the average global AHEI score for men in 2017 was 49.5 and 50.5 for women. From 1990 to 2017, the average global AHEI score increased modestly from 45.4 to 50.

The study also found that diet quality varied substantially across the world. Coastal Mediterranean nations, the Caribbean, and Eastern Asia, except for China and Mongolia, had a higher AHEI score. Central Asia, the South Pacific, and Eastern and Northern Europe had a lower score.

The authors estimated that improving the current global diet could prevent 1.6 million cancer deaths, 3.9 million coronary artery disease deaths, 1 million stroke deaths, 1.7 million respiratory disease deaths, 0.4 million neurodegenerative disease deaths, 0.5 million kidney disease deaths, 0.6 million diabetes deaths, and 1.2 million digestive disease deaths.

Harvard Chan co-authors of the study included Dong WangYanping LiMeir StampferFrank Hu, and Walter Willett.

Moderate egg consumption likely OK for most healthy people

Last month, a study reported that consuming as few as three eggs a week could increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and premature death. But an April 22, 2019 New York Times article suggests that people consider the study in context before giving eggs up.

Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said that the new study contradicts previous research, most of which suggests that moderate egg consumption is not associated with a significant increase in cardiovascular risk. He said that eating three or four eggs a week doesn’t appear to have a major effect on blood cholesterol for people who don’t already have high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.

One reason for the study’s contradictory findings may be its design, Hu said. Because it only looked at egg consumption—and not on the overall diets of participants—it’s hard to know if eggs are truly the culprit behind the apparent increase in disease risk. Hu said that the foods people ate with their eggs, or instead of eggs, makes a difference. If those who ate fewer eggs were instead eating low-fat yogurt with fruit, nuts, or whole grains, they would likely demonstrate good health, Hu said. And people who eat more eggs may also be loading up on foods like sausage, bacon, and buttered white toast, which could negatively affect their health.

Contradictory findings are a normal part of the scientific process, Hu said, noting, “In forming guidelines, you have to look at the totality of evidence rather than overreact to a single new study.”

Mondelēz International Named Again to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index

  • Ongoing strong performance driven by focus to deliver business growth while making positive impact on people and planet
  • Reflects company’s commitment to accelerate efforts around climate change and reduce its global carbon footprint

Mondelēz International has once again been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) for both the North America and World indices.


Mondelēz International Chief Executive Officer, Dirk Van de Put

The DJSI is a globally recognized independent benchmark that conducts comprehensive assessments of a company’s economic, environmental and social performance with a strong focus on long-term value creation for shareholders.

Mondelēz International’s overall score was in the 92nd percentile of its industry.  The company also achieved perfect scores of 100 in water-related risks and health and nutrition, with score increases in human rights, operational eco-efficiency, talent attraction and retention, and corporate citizenship and philanthropy.

“We’re proud of our continued strong performance in the DJSI World Index,” said Christine McGrath, Chief Sustainability, Well-being and Public & Government Affairs Officer. “It’s a testament that the work we do each day to grow our business and empower people to snack right is also growing our positive impact in the world. Leveraging our global scale, we focus our efforts where we know we can have the greatest impact to build a better future.”

For the 2018 assessment, the world’s largest 3,500 companies from developed and emerging markets were invited to take part. Only companies scoring among the top 10 percent per industry were eligible for the World Index, while companies in the top 20 percent per industry were eligible for the North America index.

In its recently released 2017 Impact For Growth Progress Report, the company demonstrated how its impact programs align with and support the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The company reported using 25 percent less water at priority locations where water is most scarce; as well as a 10 percent reduction in absolute CO2 emissions from manufacturing, and eliminating more than 53,500 metric tonnes of packaging material. The company also increased the impact of Cocoa Life, the company’s sustainable cocoa sourcing program, reaching 120,500 farmers in 1,085 communities, and sustainably sourcing 35 percent of its cocoa — up 14 percentage points from 2016.


Low plasma levels of omega-3 fatty acids associated with preterm birth

Pregnant women who had low plasma levels of long chain n-3 fatty acids in their first and second trimesters were at a significantly higher risk of early preterm birth when compared with women who had higher levels of these fatty acids, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen.

cold-water-fish.jpgThe study suggests that low concentrations of certain long chain fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA+DHA)—may be a strong risk factor for preterm birth.

“At a time when many pregnant women are hearing messages encouraging them to avoid intake of fish altogether due to mercury content, our results support the importance of ensuring adequate intake of long chain omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy. Consumers should consult the guidance issued last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency to make informed choices about the best types of fish to consume and avoid in pregnancy,” said lead author Sjurdur F. Olsen, adjunct professor of nutrition at Harvard Chan School and head of the Centre for Fetal Programming at Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The study was published online August 3, 2018, in EBioMedicine.

Preterm birth is a leading cause of neonatal death and is associated with cognitive deficiencies and cardiometabolic problems later in life among survivors. For decades, it has been hypothesized that high intake of EPA+DHA, which is found in cold-water fish such as Atlantic mackerel, anchovies, salmon, and tuna and also in leaner species such as cod and haddock, can reduce the risk of preterm birth. While some studies have supported this hypothesis, research findings have been inconsistent.

For this new study, researchers examined data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a nationwide study that follows 96,000 children in Denmark through questionnaires and registry linkages. They analyzed blood samples from 376 women who gave birth very prematurely (prior to 34 weeks of gestation) between 1996 and 2003 and 348 women who had a full-term birth. All of the women gave blood samples during their first and second trimesters of pregnancy.

Analysis of the blood samples showed that women who were in the lowest quintile of EPA+DHA serum levels—with EPA+DHA levels of 1.6% or less of total plasma fatty acids—had a 10 times higher risk of early preterm birth when compared with women in the three highest quintiles, whose EPA+DHA levels were 1.8% or higher. Women in the second lowest quintile had a 2.7 times higher risk compared with women in the three highest quintiles.

The findings suggest that, among pregnant women with low levels of EPA+DHA, eating more fish or taking a fish oil supplement could potentially lower the risk of preterm birth. The authors cautioned, however, that broad generalizations about the study’s findings may be limited due to the fact that it was conducted in Demark, where preterm birth rates are low, and said the results should be replicated in other populations. They also cautioned that the findings may not solely reflect a variation in diet; variation in underlying genetic factors may also play a role.

“An effect of this magnitude is rare, but the precision of the estimate is tight, which supports the reliability these findings. It will be important to replicate these findings in other populations, but the results of this study certainly suggest that assessment of plasma EPA+DHA status in women has the potential to be used in the future to help predict women’s risk,” said co-author Jeremy Furtado, senior research scientist at Harvard Chan School.

“Early preterm birth has immense health, economic, and emotional costs. Our findings are consistent with the results of most randomized trials of long chain omega-3 fatty acid supplements in pregnancy and support the importance of ensuring adequate intake of these nutrients during pregnancy, either through fish intake or supplements, to help prevent early preterm birth,” said co-author Andrew Thorne-Lyman, an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who worked on this study while a faculty member at Harvard Chan School.

Harvard Chan School’s Edward Giovannucci was also a co-author.
Support for this study came from March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, Innovation Fund Denmark (Centre for Fetal Programming, Danish Council for Independent Research, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
“Plasma Concentrations of Long Chain N-3 Fatty Acids in Early and Mid-Pregnancy and Risk of Early Preterm Birth,” Olsen S.F., Halldorsson T.I., Thorne-Lyman A.L.,  Strøm M., Gørtz S., Granstrøm C., Nielsen P.H., Wohlfahrt J., Lykke J.A., Langhoff-Roos J., Cohen A.S., Furtado J.D., Giovannucci E.L., Zhou W., online July 31, 2018, EBioMedicine, doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2018.07.009

Adolescents’ Cooking Skills Strongly Predict Future Nutritional Well-Being

Evidence suggests that developing cooking and food preparation skills is important for health and nutrition, yet the practice of home cooking is declining and now rarely taught in school. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that developing cooking skills as a young adult may have long-term benefits for health and nutrition.


“Opportunities to develop cooking skills by adolescents may result in long-term benefits for nutritional well-being,” said Dr. Utter. “Families, health and nutrition professionals, educators, community agencies, and funders can continue to invest in home economics and cooking education knowing that the benefits may not be fully realized until young adults develop more autonomy and live independently.”

“The impact of developing cooking skills early in life may not be apparent until later in adulthood when individuals have more opportunity and responsibility for meal preparation,” said lead author Jennifer Utter, PhD, MPH, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. “The strength of this study is the large, population-based sample size followed over a period of 10 years to explore the impact of perceived cooking skills on later nutritional well-being.”

Data were collected as part of the Project Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults longitudinal study conducted in Minneapolis-Saint Paul area schools. Participants reported on adequacy of cooking skills in 2002-2003 when they were 18 to 23 years old. Data was then collected in 2015-2016 on nutrition-related outcomes when participants were 30 to 35 years old. Questions assessed the perceived adequacy of cooking skills, how often they prepared a meal that included vegetables, how often they ate meals as a family, and how often they ate at a fast food restaurant.

Most participants perceived their cooking skills to be adequate at age 18 — 23, with approximately one quarter of adults reporting their cooking skills to be very adequate. There were no differences in perceived cooking skills by sex, race or ethnicity, educational attainment, or age. Perceived adequacy of cooking skills predicted multiple indicators of nutrition outcomes later in adulthood including greater odds of preparing a meal with vegetables most days and less frequent consumption of fast food. If those who perceived their cooking skills as adequate had families, they ate more frequent family meals, less frequent fast food meals, and had fewer barriers to food preparation.

“Opportunities to develop cooking skills by adolescents may result in long-term benefits for nutritional well-being,” said Dr. Utter. “Families, health and nutrition professionals, educators, community agencies, and funders can continue to invest in home economics and cooking education knowing that the benefits may not be fully realized until young adults develop more autonomy and live independently.”

Courtesy of dovemed