Bioversity International looks into variability of naturally occurring nutrients in foods to introduce more nutritious diets to developing regions, that are affordable, culturally acceptable, accessible and available the year round. Using a 'whole diet' approach and increasing diversity in diets can help to prevent micronutrient deficiencies – 2 billion people globally suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.
Bioversity International looks at how diversity within diets can help promote good nutrition and how using agricultural diversity can help prevent micronutrient deficiencies.
One approach can be using naturally-occurring vitamin-rich varieties of food to enhance the overall diet. By looking at the missing nutrients in a given population and the nutritional value of the staple foods that feature highly on the menu, to see if alternative varieties could be a better option.
One example of our work in this area, is using Vitamin A rich-varieties of bananas in Eastern Africa.
Severe vitamin A deficiency is one of the major public health problems in Eastern Africa causing increased susceptibility to infections, and permanent damage to both eyesight and development. The most vulnerable groups are children younger than five and women of reproductive age.
Bioversity International's work with partners in Burundi, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Uganda is looking at how better use of banana diversity within food systems can improve nutrition. There are up to 1000 varieties of banana around the world, with different naturally-occurring levels of nutrients including Vitamin A, and they are a staple food in Eastern Africa, where people eat up to 11 bananas a day.
Varieties identified that are high in Vitamin A pre-cursors perform well under various local growing conditions and are accepted by local communities for taste and use in traditional recipes. A selection of these varieties is now being officially released in Burundi and Eastern DRC, with more than 500 farmers having received planting material. In addition a training programme on production, post-harvest handling and nutrition has so far reached over 5000 community members.
This research area contributes to the CGIAR Research Programs on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and Roots, Tubers and Bananas through understanding the contribution of a diverse diet to improve nutrition and health. A4NH helps realize the potential of agricultural development to gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor. This program is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).