Nutritious Rice and Cassava Aim to Help Millions Fight Malnutrition | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced two grants to fund the development of rice and cassava with enhanced micronutrients. This effort will offer some of the world’s poorest people in Asia and Africa better nutrition and the opportunity to lead healthier, more productive lives. With 2 billion people in the developing world lacking essential vitamins and minerals, these improved crop varieties aim to substantially reduce childhood death, disease, and blindness, as well as other chronic health problems.
While most people in wealthy nations have easy access to a wide variety of nutritious foods, vitamin supplements, and fortified processed foods, many in poorer nations, including small farmers, do not. They either cannot afford or lack access to the foods they need to avoid malnutrition and its devastating impacts on health. Globally, vitamin A deficiency alone accounts for 670,000 childhood deaths each year and causes 350,000 cases of childhood blindness.
“While the consequences of malnutrition are dire, especially for children, there is enormous potential for nutritionally enhanced foods to make substantial improvements to people’s health,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “If small farmers choose to grow these new improved crops, we expect to see not only their health improve, but also a ripple effect that means more prosperous lives.”
A $10.3 million grant to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will fund the development of Golden Rice. Golden Rice is a type of rice containing beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Building on previous Gates Foundation funding, this grant will develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for the Philippines and Bangladesh.
Millions of people rely on rice for up to 80 percent of their daily food intake, and many lack access to or cannot afford nutritious food containing vitamin A. In Southeast Asia alone, more than 90 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
IRRI is partnering with a number of organizations, including Helen Keller International (HKI), a leading global health organization working to prevent blindness and reduce malnutrition; the Philippines Rice Research Institute; and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute.
The project’s activities include breeding Golden Rice varieties that are suited for the Philippines and Bangladesh, evaluating their safety, securing regulatory approval, performing tests on the nutritional benefits of these varieties, and designing a sustainable delivery program. The project plans to apply for regulatory approval of these varieties as early as 2013 in the Philippines and 2015 in Bangladesh, a key milestone to public availability of Golden Rice.
Because of the enormous potential to benefit public health, the inventors of Golden Rice, Professor Ingo Potrykus and Dr. Peter Beyer, have donated the results of their scientific research to benefit resource-poor farmers in developing countries. This means Golden Rice should be the same price as other rice, and farmers will be able to share and replant the seeds as they wish.
The nonprofit Golden Rice project is also supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, and other donors.
The foundation also announced a grant of $8.3 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to support the second phase of its BioCassava Plus project, which aims to increase the nutritional value of cassava for Kenya and Nigeria.
Cassava, a staple crop consumed by more than 250 million people in Africa, offers limited nutritional value, leaving both children and adults at risk of severe health problems. BioCassava Plus will work to enhance cassava with beta carotene, iron, and protein.
This grant builds on previous foundation funding, and will support efforts to improve cassava with key African organizations including the Nigerian National Root Crop Research Institute and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute. The enhanced cassava created by the BioCassava Plus project will be available to farmers in the same way cassava is being offered today and will have no royalty fees. This means farmers will be able to freely multiply, save and share their planting materials.
“In Nigeria, we often eat cassava two or three times a day, but it contains no vitamin A or iron,” said Chiedozie Egesi, product development director, BioCassava Plus Nigeria. “As a result, many people suffer from disease caused by a lack of vitamins and other important nutrients. BioCassava Plus is an opportunity to help people, especially in rural areas throughout Africa. It will give people vitamins they need through a food they already grow and eat.”
“It’s time for agriculture to lead a nutrition revolution,” said Dr. Howarth Bouis, director of HarvestPlus, an organization which leads a global effort to develop biofortified staple food crops. “Biofortification is a cost-effective strategy to pack vital nutrients into food crops that farming communities already grow and eat. I am very optimistic about the role it can play in reducing malnutrition.”
Both of these projects use a range of crop breeding techniques, including transgenic approaches, sometimes referred to as genetic modification. Since rice, for example, contains negligible amounts of beta carotene, genetic modification is required to boost micronutrient levels. To ensure the safety and effectiveness of these new varieties, both grants include rigorous safety testing, compliance with international standards, and adherence to the regulations and laws of the countries where they operate.
Enhancing crops is just one part of the foundation’s efforts to support small farmers. To date, the foundation’s Agricultural Development initiative has contributed approximately $1.7 billion to provide millions of small farmers in the developing world the tools and opportunities they need to boost their yields, increase their incomes, and build better, healthier lives. The foundation works with a range of partners and takes a comprehensive approach to support small farmers so that progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable over the long term. In addition to enhancing staple crops with micronutrients, the foundation also supports a range of other approaches to address malnutrition.