Hidden hunger: Micronutrient malnutrition

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About two billion people, mostly in developing countries and suffering from micronutrient malnutrition, also known as “hidden hunger” are malnourished. This is caused by using low protein and low mineral diet which is deficient of critical micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc and iron. Hidden hunger may cause severe mental and physical disorders such as lower IQ, blindness, anemia, retardation in physiological development and other health problems, especially women and children are more susceptible. Hidden hunger also reduces the productivity of adult men and women due to increased risk of illness and reduced work capacity.

“Biofortification is a process of improving the nutritive value of staple foods through conventional breeding, genetic engineering and fertilizers with trace elements”.

It is a scientific method for enhancing nutritional value of foods which is already consumed by those bearing from hidden hunger. Scientists first breed high nutritional and more yielded crops to provide a seed with high yields and increased nutritional value. Malnourished communities grow and eat these biofortified crops to absorb the extra nutrients. Nutritionally improved varieties will continue to be grown and consumed regularly year after year, which can contribute to body part for micronutrients supply throughout the lifecycle.

This strategy can contribute in reduction of micronutrient deficiencies in a population group.

It is believed that our most of the demand for nutrients will be attained through modifying the crops through breeding and genetic engineering. The concept of breeding plants for nutrient content is not new, but the concept of breeding plants for the bioavailability of nutrients is even a newer idea. A nutrient is bioavailable if it is in a form that can be easily absorbed by our bodies and in the proper form to speed that absorption. And a plant-based food that has been fortified with aimed to improve its nutritional profile is called biofortified.

Biofortification in Agriculture to Improve Nutrition:

Agriculture is the fundamental source of nutrients which are essential for a healthy life, but modern agricultural practices and policies concerned only with improving profitability at the farm and agroindustry levels, not to improve the quality and nutrition of produce. No doubt recent agricultural technologies perform a significant role to cope the energy needs of developing countries. But on the other hand, these highly productive poor quality diets are deficient in bioavailable minerals and vitamins.

Good nutrition balance is as important in humans as well as in plants to disease resistance and stress tolerance. Agronomic biofortification through fertilization offers an additional approach to improve the micronutrient status of plants grown and also the nutritional profile of humans and animals fed on that biofortified food. In addition, agronomic biofortification through fertilization (application to soil, seed, or leaves) helps to resist plants against drought and mineral deficient soils by able to penetrating plant roots in deep soils. Agronomic biofortification further encourages and ensures the plants to produce nutrients rich seed and also contributes to yield.

Advantages of Biofortification:

Biofortification has several advantages especially when applied in the poor farming community in developing countries. Most important benefit of biofortification is to reduce malnutrition or hidden hunger in rural peoples who eat large amounts of poor nutritional staple foods. But nowadays expected increase in food prices impaired by climate change and other social factors it is more difficult to reliance on these costly staple foods. Hence, locally produced biofortified nutritious crops could significantly improve nutrition levels of peoples who eat these foods on a daily basis.

Biofortification is also a cost effective technique to overcome the problem of malnutrition. The principal cost components for biofortification relate to the research needed to develop biofortified varieties and its implementation. Then these crops and varieties can be adapted in various regions and are available in the food system year after year.

Usually this technique relies on foods that are mostly used by peoples so it is highly sustainable. Seeds, roots, and tubers can usually be saved by farmers and shared with others in their communities. Nutritionally improved biofortified varieties can continue to be grown and consumed year after year to reduce malnutrition in entire populations. Recurrent costs required for producing and maintaining these traits in crops will be far lower than the initial costs of developing biofortified crops.

Micronutrient deficiency in plants greatly increases their susceptibility to diseases, especially fungal root diseases of the major food crops. Efficiency in the uptake of mineral micronutrients from the soil is associated with disease resistance in plants, which leads to decreased use of pesticides and fungicides. Breeding for micronutrient efficiency can confer resistance to root diseases that had previously been unattainable.

The writers are from the Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. they can be reached at salmanagrarian@yahoo.com


Published in: Volume 05 Issue 26

Short Link: https://www.technologytimes.pk/?p=11661