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Zero hunger: A case for bio-fortification

In developing countries, youth plays an important role in facing the challenges on availability, accessibility and use of food around the globe with increasing population, rapid urbanization and climate change. 

Youth serve in the field of food systems through many ways: some are directly working on farms producing food for the world, some are carrying out research in order to enhance production and nutrition in food, while some are spreading the knowledge of balanced diet to the community in order to increase awareness. 

In most developing countries the majority of the population are the youth and they are directly or indirectly related to agro-food systems. One young researcher from Pakistan, Zohaib Ur Rehman Bughio carried out his master’s research on agronomic zinc biofortification in rice. 

This was one of the early studies conducted in Pakistan related to Zinc (Zn) bio-fortification in rice. The research aimed to enhance the growth and yield of rice with increased zinc concentration and higher bioavailability of zinc for humans. 

His research suggested that zinc should be applied through foliar application for higher zinc concertation and bioavailability in rice grains. Moreover, the results also suggested that humans should consume brown rice rather than polished rice because of the inherent nutritional value in brown rice. 

About 50% of the world population is said to be at the risk of Zn deficiency where about 2 billion are affected by it. The deficiency of Zn is higher in South Asia where about 90% population is Zn deficient. Humans mainly absorb micronutrients from plant sources.  Zn deficiency is common in regions where cereals like wheat and rice are consumed as staple food crops

Zinc is an important micronutrient required by all living organisms. In humans, Zn is required for proper growth and development, cell division, stimulation of immune system, fertility and synthesis of DNA and proteins. The deficiency of Zn in humans is correlated with many diseases including stunted growth, skin rashes and acne problems, impaired sense of taste, delayed wound healing, alopecia (loss of hair), night blindness, diabetes, mental fatigue, DNA damage, development of cancer and adverse reproductive and endocrine effects.

Traditionally, Zn deficiency in humans is corrected by Zn supplementation, food fortification and dietary diversification. Zn supplementation involves the use of medicinal products. Food fortification involves the addition of essential micronutrients in the food to overcome mineral deficiencies in humans. Dietary diversification involves the consumption of such foods which are high in their Zn content. These three approaches are out of the reach of poor populations as they are very expensive. 

Bio-fortification is the addition of essential micronutrients in food crops and it is considered as an important tool to eliminate Zn malnutrition. It can be easily achieved through Genetic and Agronomic approaches. 

However, Agronomic biofortification is an easy, quick, affordable and less technical approach to increase Zn concentration and bioavailability in edible crops, thereby it is helpful to reduce Zn malnutrition in humans. 


Picture credit: Zohaib Bughio