Food and nutrition security exists when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to food, which is consumed in sufficient quantity and quality to meet their dietary needs and food preferences, and is supported by an environment of adequate sanitation, health services and care, allowing for a healthy and active life. The current global scenario in terms of the food and nutritional security can be called as one of the worse when compared to the past. As populations all around the globe increase, this seems to get even worse. Adding to this, climatic aberrations, natural calamities, and global pandemic of Covid-19 seem to have exacerbated the existing problem of the food and nutrition security. This issue is prevalent in developing nations such as India, South Africa, and Pakistan etc. India ranked 94 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020. Poverty is the principal cause of global hunger. The unequal distribution of income and lack of resources in developing countries means that millions of people simply cannot afford the land or farming supplies they need to grow, or otherwise gain access to nutritious food.
Governments, Unions and Organizations all around the world are finding ways to battle this problem and to widen the gap between poverty and hunger. Hunger is defined not only as the unavailability of food rather it incorporates incomplete nourishment in the food that one eats too. Malnourishment accounts a key role in determining hunger index, along with Child wasting, Child stunting, and Child Mortality.
The problem of accessibility of food is being addressed by governments of all the nations by either increasing employment, giving rations to the needy and in various other ways. In India, there are different policies and schemes under action to address the issue namely Eat Right India Movement, POSHAN Abhiyaan, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, National Food Security Act, 2013, Mission Indradhanush and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme. Scientists around the globe have come up with a solution that is being termed as biofortification.
WHAT IS BIOFORTIFICATION ?
Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology.
This is an important improvement on ordinary fortification when it comes to providing nutrients for the rural poor, who rarely have access to commercially fortified foods. As such, bio-fortification is seen as an upcoming strategy for dealing with deficiencies of micronutrients in low and middle-income countries. The basic goal of bio-fortification is to reduce mortality and morbidity rates related to micronutrient malnutrition and to increase food security, productivity, and the quality of life for poor populations in developing countries. Bio-fortification can prove very handy in fighting the battle against hunger and malnourishment as it aims towards genetic enhancement of crops that provide better nourishment without raising the prices of such commodities to a humongous amount.
BIOFORTIFICATION AROUND THE WORLD
Biofortified crops have had quite a journey throughout the world; there are many countries like Brazil, Bangladesh, Spain, Indonesia etc that have understood the need of increasing the nutritional content of the crops in order to satiate the hidden hunger issues. Various private and government organizations are actively working on it and have released many crop varieties of staples according to the regions they are working in. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has also recognized the technique and has promoted it time and again.
BIOFORTIFICATION IN INDIA
Indian government is currently fortifying milk under official capacity; The Milk Fortification Project of National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) which is intended to address vitamin deficiency in consumers. With about 25 milk federations, producer companies or milk unions across 20 States in the country are fortifying about 55 lakh litres of milk per day.
Till now more than 5600 varieties of different crops have been released of which no. of biofortified varieties is negligible. However in the past Indian government had released a total of 17 biofortified varieties of 8 crops that included varieties of rice, wheat, maize, pearl millet, lentils, mustard, cauliflower, potato, sweet potato and pomegranate. Recently the Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that India will be releasing 21 more climate resilient and biofortified varieties of rice, peas, millet, maize, soyabean, quinoa, buckwheat, winged bean, pigeon pea and sorghum. Earlier the focus was on developing higher yield crop varieties but now the concept of biofortification has started to pick pace and now is being implemented at the national level. ICAR said it had initiated biofortification in crops as a sustainable and cost-effective solution to alleviate malnutrition.
Companies like HarvestPlus are also working in the country to take this idea further and make it more accessible by collaborating with local manufacturers and government research institutes. ICRISAT, University of Delhi, National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute are some key institutions that are and have actively worked in the past in biofortifying crops.
In view of the current status of the amount of fortified crops in the country, India is far behind from achieving nutritional security for its citizens. However the recent developments have somewhat shown positive signs in the direction of the same and the change of action plan from developing only higher yielding varieties to moving focus towards biofortification is commendable. More emphasis on this subject matter must be given, as this issue is not related to a certain part of the globe but rather persists throughout the planet. Training programmes, awareness camps before must be taken into account so as to incite concerns and understanding amongst the general population as well. Bio-fortification can prove very handy in fighting the battle against hunger and malnourishment as it aims towards genetic enhancement of crops that provide better nourishment without raising the prices of such commodities to a humongous amount.