More than 840 million people in the world do not have adequate food to meet their daily food and nutritional requirements. A far greater number– three billion people – suffer from micronutrient, protein and vitamin deficiencies or ‘hidden hunger’ because they cannot afford to buy enough fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish and meat.
Diets lacking essential micronutrients – particularly iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc – increase the risk for disease, reduce lifespan and reduce mental abilities.
Biofortification – breeding crops with higher levels of vitamins and minerals, or higher protein and healthier fats – is the most practical means to improve public health.
Breeding for improved nutritional quality is undertaken with the objectives of improving –
- Protein content and quality;
- Oil content and quality;
- Vitamin content; and
- Micronutrient and mineral content.
In 2000, maize hybrids that had twice the amount of the amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, compared to existing maize hybrids were developed. Wheat variety, Atlas 66, having a high protein content, has been used as a donor for improving cultivated wheat.
It has been possible to develop an iron-fortified rice variety containing over five times as much iron as in commonly consumed varieties.
The Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi has also released several vegetable crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals, e.g., vitamin A enriched carrots, spinach, pumpkin; vitamin C enriched bitter gourd, bathua, mustard, tomato; iron and calcium enriched spinach and bathua; and protein enriched beans – broad, lablab, French and garden peas.