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Current Research Supports Biofortification Interventions, But More Research Needed

“HarvestPlus, as part of the CGIAR research program on agriculture for nutrition and health, has promoted the selective breeding of staple food crops to provide more essential micronutrients as a new potentially important strategy in the fight against micronutrient malnutrition,” Alan de Brauw and Dan Gilligan, both senior research fellows at the International Food Policy Research Institute, write in The Guardian’s “Global Development Professionals Network,” noting “[t]his ‘selective breeding’ is known as biofortification.” They continue, “Though several investments in large-scale biofortification projects are underway, until recently little rigorous evidence has supported the impact of these investments,” adding, “To fill this knowledge gap, with support from the Gates Foundation, HarvestPlus conducted the reaching end users project in Mozambique and Uganda from 2006-2009.”

De Brauw and Gilligan describe the project, which “aimed to reduce vitamin A deficiency among children under five and among women of child-bearing age by introducing provitamin-A-rich orange sweet potato (OSP) to 24,000 farming households,” and they detail the impact evaluation strategy. “The results showed promise for biofortification,” they state and highlight a recent paper in which they “measure[d] the project’s impacts on OSP adoption and nutritional knowledge,” finding “large impacts on farmers’ adoption of OSP.” They state, “Our findings suggest that future biofortification interventions can have similar impacts with even simpler nutrition messages about biofortified crops” and “highlight avenues for further research,” concluding, “More research is needed to better understand how diffusion of biofortified varieties can be promoted to further increase the cost-effectiveness of future biofortification programs” (9/3).