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Webinar on ‘Biofortification: A Path to Sustainable Nutrition’ Held

Shivam Dwivedi
Shivam Dwivedi
Webinar on ‘Biofortification: A Path to Sustainable Nutrition’

ASSOCHAM had organized a Webinar on Biofortification: A path to Sustainable Nutrition on October 1, 2021, in association with HarvestPlus & GAIN. A knowledge paper, prepared by PwC on “Integrating nutrient-rich crops into the food system: A tool of change” was released during the session by our Chief Guest, Dr. S K Malhotra,  Agriculture Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmer’s Welfare, Govt. of India. 

The session focused on the significance of biofortification in fighting hidden hunger, creating awareness about biofortified crops, understanding the relationship between biofortification and other methods of food enrichment, and understanding the agricultural benefits of biofortified crops.

The welcome address and the context set was done by Vivek Chandra, Co-chair, Food Processing Council, ASSOCHAM & CEO – Global Branded Business, LT Foods, and the Inaugural session was graced by the presence of Dr. S K Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmer’s Welfare, Govt. of India, Vivek Arora, Principal Lead, Dr. Binu Cherian, Country Director, HarvestPlus, Ajay Kakra, Executive Director, Agriculture and Natural Resource, PwC, Ravinder Grover, Programme Lead, CBC- HarvestPlus and Ishank Mikhail Gorla, Programme Lead, CBC - GAIN.

Dr. Malhotra appreciated ASSOCHAM’s effort in organizing the session. During his address, he said food & nutritional security is the core of a nation's growth and it can be linked to income security as well. He aligned nutritional security with the SDGs set by the UN that aims to eliminate malnutrition by 2030 but emphasized that the pathway to reach this goal is still not well defined. Various strategies have been devised to overcome this burden of malnutrition and biofortification will provide nutritionally rich crop varieties, which is the need of the hour! He also mentioned that the year 2023 will be recognized as the International Year for Millets.

Vivek Arora greeted all the dignitaries in the inaugural session and started his address by mentioning the importance of micronutrients for the functionality of the human body. Recent studies have shown that there is a reduction of these micronutrients in food nowadays due to various reasons like soil pollution, increasing CO2 levels, etc. To replenish these micronutrients in food there is a fortification and it has been adopted in 1953 with the fortification of vanaspati in India. 

In 2016, FSSAI came with the regulation to fortify 5 staples to cover the nutrient gap in the country that included, salt, milk, rice, oil, and flour. He emphasized that fortification is a complementary strategy that is easy, cost-effective, and provides benefits to a large scale population like oil goes to 98% of the households in the country ensuring its reach to masses. He mentioned the challenge that when compared, oil and milk have a more organized market than wheat flour, wheat in itself is difficult to fortify as compared to rice. 

Post the release of the knowledge paper, Ajay Kakra gave insights about the publication and mentioned the 2 key recommendations that focus on integrating farmer groups and farming communities and commercialization of the biofortified crops, ways to strengthen them as these are very critical elements. The first recommendation given is integrating the farming groups and the ways to scale up the use through policy and other interventions so that it becomes mainstream from their perspective as well. The second recommendation was regarding the commercialization of the crops which includes the adoption of the biofortified varieties by the mainstream food processor and the ways these crops can become mainstream right from the small millers in the villages to large branded players.

Ravinder Grover, HarvestPlus & Ishank Mikhail Gorla, GAIN gave a joint presentation on the Commercialization of Biofortified Crops Programme.  The presentation gave an insight on the global health crisis surrounding hidden hunger and Grover mentioned that primarily low and middle-income countries do not get enough essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) in their daily diets. This condition is called hidden hunger. He explained why biofortification could be a game-changer and how it can be a good approach to reach the rural poor who rely heavily on locally produced staple foods as their primary source of nutrition. He emphasized that biofortification stands out as is sustainable, and cost-effective approach as after the initial development and dissemination is completed, recurring costs of maintaining the production of biofortified crops are low. 

After the Inaugural Session, the agenda had 2 technical sessions that focused on Improving the scale and access of Biofortified crops and the Commercialization of biofortified foods. Dr. Binu Cherian, Country Director, HarvestPlus, and Bhuvaneswari Balasubramanian, Senior Technical Specialist – Knowledge Leadership, GAIN were the moderators for the 2 sessions respectively. 

We saw the presence of industry experts and very eminent speakers for both the sessions that included Parikrama Chowdhry, Lead - Impact Evaluation and Partnerships, Syngenta Foundation, Milind P. Kulkarni, Senior Scientist (Cereal Crops), Nirmal Seeds, Prabhat Labh, CEO, Grameen Foundation in the first session and Dr. Bhavna Sharma, Head- Nutrition Science, ITC Foods, Dr. Dinesh Chauhan, VP, DeHaat, Jenny Walton, Senior Specialist, Demand Creation, and Business Development, HarvestPlus in the second session. Success stories by farmers growing biofortified crops were also shared at the end of the technical sessions. 

The program was concluded by Nirupama Sharma, Joint Director & HOD (Agri, Food Processing & FMCG), ASSOCHAM with the vote of thanks.

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