Around the world essential nutrients are added to foods to aid the health of the population, for example in the UK flour is fortified with calcium due to the lack of dairy products during the war years. These fortifications can have huge and positive impacts on health and development, in developing countries a system of universal salt iodisation has reduced the effects of iodine deficiency in 14 countries. However these added nutrients are often found in food that is processed in some way such as flour and these foods are often not available to the poorest in society.
A way to make sure that that they get these benefits is to add micronutrients to essential and staple crops in these communities, so that what they grow locally is full of what they need to enhance health. This is done by cross breeding standard crops with wild varieties. This is known as biofortification and is a process of giving crops additional nutritional qualities through conventional plant breeding or using modern biotechnological techniques. It is done through plant growth rather than adding nutrients in later on during food processing. Once the seed has been developed that can grow and give crops that are fortified, the seed can be replicated and given out to communities that need it, these communities can then save seed for themselves and resow each year. These seeds are also often pest resilient, and are more able to survive drought conditions.The nutrients that are most needed in poorer communities are iron, zinc and vitamin A and so biofortified crops such as iron beans, zinc rice and beans, vitamin A cassava and maize are being developed.
The seeds can offer real solutions to people who grow food in areas where soil alone cannot give crops the nutrients they need, and where health is seriously compromised.