Biofortification: improving the nutritional quality of food

What is bio fortification?

Biofortification is the process by which plant breeders breed in traits of improved nutrition to crops. It sounds complicated - but it really isn’t!

Micronutrient deficiency

More than two billion people in the world today may be affected by micro nutrient deficiency – which simply means they don’t get enough of the essential vitamins and minerals required for proper growth and development. It’s sometimes called ‘hidden hunger’ – because while a person might not feel hungry, their body is still hungry for more nutrients.

The most common micro nutrient deficiencies include iron and zinc. By supporting families in the communities where World Vision works to grow bio fortified crops and add them to a balanced diet, we’re trying to reduce hidden hunger and ensure children have the nutrition they need to grow up healthy.

Common types of micro nutrient deficiency


Iron deficiency leads to anaemia, which results in health risks for pregnant mothers, impaired cognitive and physical development, and reduced work productivity

Vitamin A

A quarter of a million children become blind from vitamin A deficiency every year and half of those children die within a year after becoming blind.


More than 400,000 children die each year due to zinc deficiency, and it also severely impacts child development. An estimated 17.3% of the global population is at risk of inadequate zinc intake.

Left: This community in Uganda have begun making juice and cakes out of orange sweet potatoes, to encourage their children to eat them. Right: World Vision runs nutrition education classes for parents using locally available, affordable ingredients.

The story of sweet potato

Vitamin A is the second most common micro nutrient deficiency in the world. Orange sweet potato is the highest plant source of vitamin A - even higher than carrots which do not grow well in hot climates. A child can be vitamin A sufficient by eating just one tenth of an orange sweet potato per day.

Vitamin A can be stored in the liver so one does not need to eat vitamin A sources every day. Orange sweet potato consumption can also help children recover from diarrhoea – the second leading cause of death amongst children under five years old.

Australia has had orange sweet potatoes for many years, but until recently Africa has had only white sweet potato. Twenty years ago in Mozambique, World Vision started assisting plant breeders to test new orange sweet potato varieties for Africa. Since the first orange sweet potato variety was released in 2003, World Vision has been working on scaling up these new varieties in many African and Asian countries. This is helping children avoid severe vitamin A deficiency and blindness.

How do World Vision programs incorporate bio fortified crops?

World Vision works with partners like Harvest Plus to get the latest high yielding bio fortified crops and encourages their spread through community seed multiplication programs. At the same time, we run nutrition education programs so that the community learns about more nutritious foods. These programs help parents develop a better understanding of the kinds of foods their children need to grow up healthy – incorporating community knowledge and other locally available foods as well as bio fortified crops.

Sweet potatoes in Tanzania

Thanks to a World Vision project in Tanzania, this lady is producing a variety of orange sweet potato called Kabodee. She’s started feeding it to her children as well as selling orange sweet potato into the lucrative markets in Arusha. Her crop produced approximately 4500kgs from a one acre plot, and with a market price of A$0.25 for every kilo she has been able to earn over $1000.

To ensure this source of income is sustainable, World Vision has helped her use an advanced sweet potato tunnel to produce virus-free sweet potato vines. The tunnel keeps virus carrying insects out of the planting material garden, increasing the life of her crop and improving the yield.

Bio fortified crops around the world

World Vision is bringing bio fortified crops into our programming around the world to address the most prevalent micronutrient deficiencies. In Rwanda and Burundi, where one in three people are anaemic, we’re promoting high-iron beans. Beans are a staple food in this region – and this variety, developed by Harvest Plus, provides up to 45 percent of a person’s daily iron needs. That’s 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties! They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

We’re also looking at how Zincol 2015, a high zinc and high iron wheat variety, could benefit 200 million bread eaters in Pakistan.