Food security is not only about the quantity of food we eat; it is also the quality of that food, and the nutrition that it provides. Malnutrition causes death and diseases, as well as affecting children’s growth, and adult’s productivity. 10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths. One out of four children – roughly 146 million – in developing countries is underweight. It has become increasingly apparent that this is no longer an issue for health institutions alone; agriculture can also play a vital role in improving health in the developing world. One way in which it can do this, is by boosting the nutritional value of crops.
Last week, the Rwandan Government announced the release of five new iron-rich bean varieties. Bred by the Rwanda Agriculture Board and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with funding from HarvestPlus, the beans are high yielding, resistant to major diseases and pests and could provide up to 30% of the population’s daily iron needs.
Anaemia, a disease caused by iron deficiency, affects 40% of children under‐five in Rwanda. By September, HarvestPlus and its partners expect to distribute more than 200 tons of the iron-rich climbing and bush bean varieties through agrodealers and local markets to about 75,000 farming households. They predict that by the end of 2013, more than half a million household members will be eating iron-rich beans.
In Egypt, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been working with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) for the last two years to fortify the nation’s staple food, baladi bread, with iron and folic acid. These micronutrients, which are crucial particularly for the health of children and pregnant women, are now benefitting over 50 million people and reducing the number of preventable diseases and miscarriages. A study conducted by WFP in May 2012 showed that in Egypt, employers could gain over $175 million by reducing levels of anaemia in the workforce. Furthermore, it showed that every $0.17 invested in fortifying flour for baladi bread in Egypt is estimated to return over $4.00 to the economy, demonstrating that bio-fortification can be one of the most cost effective public health tools, and beneficial for the national economy.
WFP’s study showed that every $0.17 invested in fortifying flour for baladi bread in Egypt is estimated to return over $4.00 to the economy, demonstrating that bio-fortification can be one of the most cost effective public health tools, and beneficial for the national economy.
This video, produced by ONE International, tells the story of Egypt’s fortification programme through the eyes of a young family whose newest member proves the impact the programme has had.
Click here to read more ways in which agriculture can bolster nutrition.