Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Healthy diets from sustainable food systems

Healthy diets from sustainable food systems

A Bioversity International Initiative

The challenge

How can we ensure that 9 billion people will have access to a nutritious and healthy diet that is produced in a sustainable manner by 2050? 

This is the global challenge ahead of us.

Population growth and increasing urbanization are coinciding with an increase of health problems related to poor nutrition around the world:

  • An estimated one in three people on the plant are affected by malnutrition. Of these, 159 million children under the age of five are estimated to be stunted.
  • Two billion people are deficient in one or more micronutrients – the essential vitamins and minerals critical for growth and development such as vitamin A, iron and zinc.
  • Nearly 2 billion people are obese.

Diversifying diets that include high quality, safe and nutritious foods can reduce micronutrient deficiencies by providing a rich source of nutrients all year round. Yet national food systems are supplying less diverse food. This is reflected in diets that are monotonous and based on a few staple crops, especially in low-income countries where access to nutrient-rich sources of food, such as animal source foods, fruits and vegetables is a challenge.

From 391,000 known plant species, 5,538 are known to be used for human food. Just three – rice, wheat and maize – provide more than 50% of the world's plant-derived calories.

Our solutions

This Bioversity International Initiative studies how agricultural and tree biodiversity can be better used within food production systems through:

Rural to urban agri-food chains

We investigate how agri-food value chains serve as a vehicle to connect producers who are often in rural areas, with consumers in peri-urban and urban areas.

Local agri-food systems

We analyze how a whole-diet approach can contribute to improved nutrition and health among low-income urban and rural consumers.

Examples of our research

Millets in India

Bioversity International has been working for almost 15 years with M.S. Swaminathan Foundation and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to promote the conservation and use of millets, a neglected and underutilized species forgotten after the popularization of rice, wheat and maize.


  • Improved market links for small-scale producers have seen restaurants adding millet-based dishes to their menus, and new income opportunities for women producing millet-based snacks.
  • In 12 districts in Central and South India, switching from white rice to minor millets in school lunches resulted in increased haemoglobin levels in children–up to 37% higher than the control group–within 3 months.

Nutritious biodiversity

The Global Environment Facility-funded 'Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition' initiative is coordinated by Bioversity International and led by Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey and aims to harness agricultural biodiversity to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Agricultural biodiversity has the potential to fulfill many of the nutritional requirements needed for a healthy and balanced diet.


  • Even though the initiative only started in 2012, results are emerging, for example, Brazil is implementing a school-feeding programme to promote healthy eating habits in schools, which ensures 30% of procurement is from local family farmers.
  • Sri Lanka is promoting nutritious traditional species through food outlets and food fairs.

New publication:

Guidelines on assessing biodiverse foods in dietary surveys

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with Bioversity International, as one of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health's Managing Partners, has jointly produced new scientific guidelines guidelines for collecting information on food biodiversity through dietary surveys.

Guidelines on Assessing Biodiverse Foods in Dietary Intake Surveys, will assist researchers and practitioners to generate more reliable data and implement best practices related to assessing food biodiversity.