By Gabriel-Eddie Njoroge

A new interactive tool has been made available that can help identify where and for which staple crops biofortification, a process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved, can make the greatest impact on micronutrient deficiencies.

Based on the HarvestPlus Biofortification Priority Index (BPI), the website is a user-friendly tool designed to guide strategic decisions for investment, policy and practice pertaining to the introduction and scaling of biofortified staples.

Rural families in developing countries relying on inexpensive but not very nourishing staple foods like rice, wheat or maize are the ones targeted by biofortification. The biofortification allows rural families to grow and consume varieties of these crops that are rich in vitamin A, iron or zinc, three of the micronutrients identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as most critical for health.

Deficiencies in these nutrients may not be detectable as those suffering from them appear to be consuming an adequate amount of food. However, they can cause serious damage to the body such as blindness, growth stunting, mental retardation, learning disabilities, low work capacity and even premature death.

The WHO notes that biofortification may present a way to reach populations where providing dietary supplements and conventional fortification activities may be difficult to implement or limited. This is because biofortification differs from conventional fortification in that it aims to increase nutrient levels in crops during plant growth rather than through manual means during processing of the crops.

The index was developed in 2013 by HarvestPlus to ensure crop biofortification efforts were as targeted and impactful as possible. Using the most recent national-level data on eating and growing patterns as well as micronutrient deficiency rates, the BPI ranks 128 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean regions according to their potential for biofortification for eight different crop-micronutrient combinations. A clear prioritization of where biofortified crop interventions are most suitable is the result.

Stakeholders are increasingly interested in the solution as more evidence on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of biofortification becomes available. The launch of the second version of the BPI tool, now on a dedicated website, follows two years of work to update the data and analyses behind the index, and to improve the applications and functions of the tool.