“Smart” crops target malnutrition across Latin America and the Caribbean

11 April, 2011 by (comments)

Nutritionally-enhanced staples to be released in high-priority areas, aiming to improve children and women’s health, and farmers’ adaptation to climate change

In a major drive to tackle malnutrition, farmers in some of the poorest parts of Latin America and the Caribbean are to receive a range of new, nutritionally-enhanced food crops.


The improved rice, maize and beans—which also out-perform traditional crops in terms of disease resistance and yields—will be released in high-priority areas of Honduras, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Colombia, where malnutrition is endemic, and rural communities struggle to access reliable, affordable health services.

In recent weeks international food policy experts have urged a more pragmatic approach to tackling global food insecurity, by focusing on improving nutrition in combination with well-established efforts to develop higher-yielding staple crops.

The recent release of a quality protein maize (QPM) variety in El Salvador is the first of 10 new, nutritionally-improved crops to be released in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2011 through AgroSalud, a multi-partner “biofortification” program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and based at CIAT in Colombia.

Developed by AgroSalud partner, The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, QPM contains increased levels of the essential amino acids tryptophan and lysine, to combat the problem of stunted growth in children. In the latest release in El Salvador, QPM is being used to improve production of domestic chickens, an essential source of protein in rural areas.

In conjunction with its partners, AgroSalud’s biofortification program has already developed and released more than 40 nutritionally-improved crops across the region since 2007. These include rice with more iron in Bolivia, beans with more iron and zinc in Guatemala, and vitamin A-rich sweet potato in Haiti.

Iron deficiency is widespread in the region, can impair children’s mental development, and is a significant cause of death during childbirth. As well as strengthening the immune system, zinc is also important in children’s physical development, and vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in developing countries.

Biofortified Rice 2_lo

“There is much more to improving food security than simply increasing yields,” said AgroSalud coordinator and nutritionist, Helena Pachón. “Even where communities are producing bumper harvests, you can still find high levels of malnutrition. Targeted, balanced nutrition is crucial, and biofortified crops can help provide some of the daily requirement of essential micronutrients.”

Developed using traditional breeding techniques, the nutritionally-improved crops also boast agronomic benefits such as drought tolerance and high yield potential, with some offering resistance to pests and diseases. Extensive involvement of farmers in the research and selection process has helped to ensure the new varieties have the widest possible appeal.

“It’s critical to ensure biofortified crops are as productive and resilient—if not more so—than the varieties farmers currently grow,” continued Pachón. “This is particularly important as many countries in the region now face the challenges of increasingly unpredictable weather and climate change, and the impact these can have on crop pests and diseases.

“This is a new dawn for Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s great to have another release under our belts, and we’re very encouraged to see that biofortification—an idea we’ve been promoting for so long—is gaining increasing acceptance as an essential weapon in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.”

See also:

AgroSalud photofilmFeeding Ambitions (3min 57)the work of AgroSalud to tackle childhood malnutrition in Colombia. Please feel free to embed and/or share

AgroSalud in Pictures

AgroSalud website

Filed Under: Crop diversity, Latin America and the Caribbean, Regions