Alleviating the malnutrition menace by Biofortification

The process of increasing and improving the nutritional value of the crops by using plant breeding and biotechnology techniques is known as biofortification.

Alleviating the malnutrition menace by Biofortification

For biofortification, plant growth promoting rhizobacteria are used to eliminate the malnutrition problem. PGPRs are the growth promoting bacteria which live in the rhizosphere and increases the growth of the host plant by enhancing mobility, uptake of nutrients and makes the plant more enrich with the nutrients.

Importance of biofortification

Malnutrition is a big problem, not only in Pakistan, but in all over the world. To eliminate this problem, biofortification is the most suitable option. It, not only increases the nutritional value and vitamins in crops, but also it is very cost effective in crop production.

The demand of biofortified foods is very high in market, even on higher rate due to their enrichment in micronutrients especially. These foods decrease the chances of diseases and improve the public health by improving immunity system, brain (IQ level), body weight and infection resistance etc.

Application of biotechnology tools to enhance nutrition value of the foods is a long-term strategy; however, our nation needs a technique which can fulfill the multi-nutrient requirements at immediate. In this scenario, following are the innovative strategies to enhance the nutritive-value of the grains;

  • Dipping of rice seedling in solution of Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPRs) which could be Zn solubilizing bacteria; 20-30% higher Zn and almost 25% higher Fe contents have been reported after application of PGPRs
  • Wheat seeds mixed with PGPRs have resulted in higher contents of essential nutrients. PGPRs alter the bioavailability of the nutrients in root zone and consequently, crop produces grains with higher quantity of nutrients

Potential impact on local industry and economy

Finally, the produce with higher nutritious-value will catch relatively more price in local market. It has been documented that application of PGPRs had resulted higher production over without PGPRs. This is pretty sure that application of PGPRs will promote the agro-industry in Pakistan by supplying the nutrient enriched grains to our people.

This smart approach will, not only improve the productivity, but also boost the economy of our common farmers. This technology, definitely, will change the production pattern in the country and Pakistan will be self-nourishing country.

Readiness for commercialization

PGPRs are available but the awareness among farmers is need of the hour. Our farmers are pessimistic about the application of PGPRs; they are thinking that they will be in loss by reduction of final crop outputs after application of beneficial PGPRs. This doubt among farmers is the major hurdle in adoption of this smart approach.

We can promote this simple technology by farmer’s demonstration plots at farmer-scale. We must educate our common farmer for inclusion of beneficial PGPRs in this crop husbandry to improve the quality of final produce.

It is assumed that nearly half of all deaths annually in children are attributed partly to under-nutrition. Malnutrition is aggravating impaired growth and development due to feeding low-quality food. This menace is not only confined to children under age of five but is also associated with men and women of any age.

Nearly 9.8 million children have experienced chronic nutrition deprivation globally. In Pakistan, malnutrition is exacerbating the stunted growth of brain among 45% of the total children. The major determinants of malnutrition, attributed to our food production pattern, are;

  • low production of quality grains
  • less bioavailability of important minerals including iron and zinc
  • high prices of good quality foods
  • very expensive high tech. facilities
  • unawareness of common farmer to cost-effective technologies

Biofortification is one of the leading approaches to enhance nutrient-contents in the grains. But some methods of biofortification are not acceptable by small growers of this country. These methods are application of biotechnology and plant breeding program; a common farmer does not have any positive perception about these.

But some cheaper and eco-friendly strategies of biofortification are being applied to overcome hidden huger dilemma from this country, and even a common farmer can practice these techniques to enhance the quality of grains of essential cereals.

Among them, the application of plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) could improve the quality of grains. Various studies have demonstrated the beneficial interaction of PGPRs and field crops. PGPRs release soluble and volatile compounds, which are implicated in antibiosis, cell signalling, induction of resistance and tolerance in plants against biotic and abiotic stresses. A major role of PGPR is through increasing the availability of nutrients in the rhizosphere region of the plant.

Wheat and rice are “global grains” to feed the ever-growing world’s population. In Pakistan, most of the cultivated land has occupied by these two cereals. After green revolution, the grains production have been increased by more than 3-folds; but the quality of grains is deteriorating day-by-day, and consequently malnutrition is provoking hidden hunger in the country. Application of PGPRs regulates plant growth and resultantly higher nutrition in food grains by following mechanistic approaches;

  • by secreting plant growth-promoting substances such as indole-3-acetic acid (IAA), cytokinin, and gibberellins
  • by altering metal bioavailability by secreting chelators such as siderophores and organic acids, altering soil pH, and through oxidation/reduction reactions to enhance their accumulation, and
  • by solubilizing nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen fixation
  • by excreting stress-alleviating metabolites such as 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid deaminase

Researchers in other parts of the world have documented a significant improvement in quality of grains of major cereal including rice and wheat. So, it is recommended to explore these promising strategies to alleviate the malnutrition menace from this country.

Authors: Tanveer Ahmad*, Ashfaq Ahmad, Muhammad Shaukat, Muhammad Akhlaq Mudassir and Hafiz M Mazhar Abbas

*Agro-Climatology Lab, Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad

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