Despite the expectations that the world would recover from the crisis more rapidly and that food and nutrition security would start to improve after the pandemic in 2021, world hunger and malnutrition increased even more in 2022 after a dramatic increase COVID epidemic. Inequalities grew as a result of the pandemic’s impact and the subsequent recovery, which contributed to more setbacks in 2021 towards the 2030 goal of achieving zero hunger.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines under nutrition as a form of malnutrition caused by the deficiencies or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy or/and nutrients. The 2020 global nutrition report used three criteria to evaluate malnutrition: overweight, stunning and wasting and anemia. According to WHO, 91.62 billion individuals are anemic worldwide, with 30.2% of them being women and 47.4% being children under the age of five.

Prevalence of anaemia in various segments of the global population

The COVID-19 pandemic’s longevity and other crisis, including the conflict of Ukraine, pose a danger for the efforts taken to end malnutrition. The prevalence of malnutrition, particularly among women and children, may raise further impending efforts to meet the 2030 global nutrition targets. This necessitates coordinated actions to reduce the impacts of starvation. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development prioritizes nutrition.

Nutrition Insecurity: Hidden hunger

Hidden hunger occurs when the intake and absorption of vitamins and minerals are insufficient to maintain optimal health and development i.e., Micronutrient deficiency.
According to Global Hunger Index (GHI), more than two billion people suffer from hidden hunger, with nearly half of them are from India. vitamin A, iron and zinc are the top three common deficiency all over world.

Strategies to tackle Nutrition Insecurity

Numerous inventions, including pharmaceutical supplementation, industrial fortification, dietary diversification, etc., can be used singly or in combination to prevent and treat the widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Such tactics have, however, only had low chance of success, primarily due to social or economic constraints as well as technical issues with the compound selection.
The novel concept being worked upon is ‘Biofortification’, precisely defined as “fortification in field rather than in the factory.”

Fortification strategies

There are 2 main strategies involved in Fortification. They are direct intervention and indirect intervention.

Types of Fortification

Micronutrient deficiency has a disproportionately negative impact on the rural poor population and there are few direct intervention techniques available. Indirect fortification, or biofortification, is the greatest option at this time.

Biofortification

Biofortification is defined as value addition or enrichment of a crop via Genetic Manipulations. This seed-based strategy that has the potential to empower farmers also contains a long term benefit in diminishing micronutrient deficiency. This is an agricultural nutrition strategy.

Methods of Biofortification

Three major methods involved in Biofortification:

 Plant Breeding method
 Application of soil and foliar micronutrients
 Genetic engineering method

Plant breeding method:

To produce advanced offspring rich in micronutrients, parent which have great concentrations of the required micronutrients can be crossed, or parent with low level of anti-nutrients can be crossed. For small holder farmers, it is a suitable technique to enhance the micronutrient in crops. But major negative in this method is, it is a time-consuming process. Firstly, the right trait has to be identified by the breeder.

Application of Soil and Foliar Micronutrients:

There are instances when the mineral reserves are depleted and cannot be transferred to the plant. Applying mineral fertilizers, which are inorganic substances with micronutrients to the soil can boost the amount of minerals that are delivered to the plant’s edible parts. To provide plant nutrients, fertilizers are sprayed onto the tissue of above-ground plants in a process known as Foliar Fertilization. Small doses of macronutrients and micronutrients can be applied topically without endangering the plant.

Factors influencing soil and foliar application method are the duration of application, wind speed, temperature and humidity in atmosphere.

Genetic engineering is the latest technology. Without taxonomic limitations, it utilizes other source gene and is injected straight into the crop. It is the most frequently used method in Biofortification when the required micronutrient doesn’t exist at the required levels in the crop and conventional plant breeding cannot produce the appropriate outcome.

Why Millets?

Traditional targets for biofortification have primarily been staple crops such as rice, corn, potatoes, etc. since they are widely consumed by the undernourished population, despite having low micronutrient contents.

In the 20th century, Green Revolution transformed agriculture by introducing high-yielding varieties of grains like wheat, rice and maize. While this immediately eliminated the issue of food insecurity, it also resulted in nutritional instability and the excessive consumption of foods with no therapeutic value, which eventually led to nutrient deficiency diseases.

Here comes our miracle grain: Millet, which is already rich in micronutrients.

Millet uniqueness

Millets are the third-highest source of calories, after wheat and rice. They also provide the required micronutrients, essential amino acids, polyphenols, avenanthramides, flavonoids, polycyanins, lignins and polysterols to an individual’s diet.

Even if the fertility of the soil has been poor, millets can grow. Due to high output and short growing season with high temperature environment, they are highly preferred. Hence, they are also called as the poor man’s crop. Owing to the presence of significant level of proteins, amylose, dietary fibre, minerals and essential amino acids, millets are considered to be the 6th most quantitatively significant grain in the globe. (Journal of science of food and agriculture, 2018)

Average nutrient composition of millets in comparison with rice and wheat
Table 1: Average nutrient composition of millets in comparison with rice and wheat

Mineral composition of millets in comparison to rice & wheat

Nutrients Bioavailability from Millets

Millets have high fibre content, but presence of some anti-nutritional factors such as tannin and phytates affects the bioavailability of minerals in millets. Dietary fibre has many positive effects like reduction in blood cholesterol level, reduction in blood glucose level, good bowl movement, etc. Apart from fibre, millets also enrich with phytochemicals, which functions as detoxifying agents, antioxidants, immune modulators, etc. Some of the examples of phytochemicals present in millets are: lignans, polyphenols, phytocyanin, phytosterols and phytoestrogens.

Major health benefits of millets

Pearl Millet: An Ideal Candidate for Biofortification

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is the most magnificent grain for genetical improvement, owing to its ability to withstand dry regions, where farming conditions are mostly critical.

Biofortified varieties in Pearl Millet

Finger Millets

Finger Millet is also known as Ragi and it plays a major role in the fight against malnutrition. Oleic, palmetic and linolenic acids are the major fatty acids presents in Ragi. It is rich in calcium among cereals and added to that, it is a fair source of Vitamin B1, B2, B3 and iron. So, it is good for breast feeding mothers, children and young women.

Biofortified varieties in Finger Millet

Little Millets

Little Millets are enriched with iron and zinc of 59 ppm and 35 ppm respectively. But popular varieties have only 25 ppm iron and 20 ppm zinc. Further, it contains around 38% of dietary fibre.

Biofortified varieties in Little Millet

Nutrients: baseline & levels achievedNutrients in biofortified crop - baseline level & levels achieved

Biofortification Pathway

In the case of millets, biofortification can be done via two major strategies and they are as under:
• Through increasing the accumulation of nutrients;
• Through decreasing the level of antinutrients to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients in millet.

The “Effective pathway for biofortification” is classified into the following 3 stages:
• Discovery
• Development
• Dissemination

Major challenges in Biofortification

1. Lack of knowledge among farmers about Biofortification

Getting a low yield is the biggest fear that prevails in most of the famers. Hence, they are afraid to switch from traditional variety to biofortified variety.

2. Misinformation about the cost of biofortified grains

Farmers are highly sensitive to prices. Therefore, this misconception discourages them to try biofortification.

3. Need to raise more awareness among the Industry Players

Most of the industry players are not aware about biofortification technique to enrich crop with nutrients.

4. Modification in appearance

Sometimes biofortification can result in occurrence of changes in the colour of the grains. Hence, there is no preference for such grains among the consumers.

5. Limited Government Incentives

Breeders have only limited access to most of the resources. Hence, there is a requirement for some provision to be made by the Government towards the same.

Benefits of Millet Biofortification

► Many researches state that Biofortified millets can end hidden hunger;
► It helps in the improvement of overall health of consumers;
► It enhances the levels of vitamins and minerals, such as Iron, Zinc, Calcium, including Selenium;
► Biofortification is a sustainable, economically viable solution that can assist in resolving the dilemma in a nation like India, which confronts significant nutritional challenges such as malnutrition.

Drawbacks of Millet Fortification

► Biofortification cannot deliver as much micronutrients as commercially fortified meals or dietary supplements. Initial cost is also too high;
► Communities may become dependent on a small number of crops, as currently Biofortification is only focused on a few main crops. This lessens dietary and environmental diversity;
► People are hesitant to adopt biofortified foods, because of the colour changes in the grains.

Towards Nourishment

Millets have that power to destroy the hidden hunger caused by micronutrients deficiency. Millet Biofortification is a miracle approach to eliminate malnutrition and can help in boosting the health of poorly nourished consumers. Even though millets are nutrient rich, it is necessary to increase the output, while also improving the millets quality to move tons of people away from nutrient deficiency to sufficiency. The aphorism, ‘Health comes from the farm, not the pharmacy’ is at the heart of ongoing research on biofortification.

References:

1. R S Banu, Vipin Kumar (2020) Nutrient management technologies of millets for higher productivity and nutritional security.
2. Ashwani kumar, Vidisha Tomer, Amarjeet Kaur, Vikas kumar, Kritika Gupta (2018), Millets: a solution to agrarian and nutritional challenges.
3. Kimeera Ambati and Sucharitha K V, (2019), Millets-review on nutritional profiles and health benefits.
4. Knowledge paper on millets the future food for india (2022), The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
5. A. Vinoth and R. Ravindhran (2017), Biofortification in Millets: A Sustainable Approach for Nutritional Securit.
6. Devendra Kumar Yadava, Partha Ray Choudhury, Firoz Hossain, Dinesh Kumar, Trilochan Mohapatra (2020), Biofortified Varieties: Sustainable Way to Alleviate Malnutrition, ICAR New Delhi.
7. Hanna R. Manwaring1, H. F. J. Bligh2 and Rattan Yadav (2016), The Challenges and Opportunities Associated with Biofortification of Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum) with Elevated Levels of Grain Iron and Zinc.
8. Madhu Choudhary* and Rajwanti Saran (2020), A Review on Biofortification – To Improve Nutritional Quality of Cereals.
9. Amy Saltzman a, Ekin Birol a, Howarth E. Bouis a,n , Erick Boy a , Fabiana F. De Moura a , Yassir Islam a , Wolfgang H. Pfeiffer b (2012), Biofortification: Progress toward a more nourishing future.
10. Priyanka Sharma, Poonam Aggarwal & Amarjeet Kaur (2016), Biofortification: A new approach to eradicate hidden hunger.
11. Role of Millets in Nutritional Security of India (2013), national academy of agricultural sciences, New Delhi.
12. FAO.2022. World Food and Agriculture – Statistical Yearbook 2022. Rome. https://doi.org/10.4060/cc2211en
13. Devendra Kumar Yadava, Firoz Hossain & Trilochan Mohapatra (2018), Nutritional security through crop biofortification in India: Status & future prospects.
14. Gulave CM, and Kshirsagar AV (2020), Bio-fortified varieties: Way to build nutritional immunity to fight against Covid-19 pandemic- A review.
15. The State of the World series of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2022).
16. Bio-fortified Varieties: Sustainable Way to Alleviate Malnutrition (2020) ICAR, New Delhi.

About the Authors:
1. Harini U.
B Tech, Food Technology
NIFTEM, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
2. Harish S.
B Tech, Food Technology
NIFTEM, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
3. Hari Sankar A.
B Tech, Food Technology
NIFTEM, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
4. Sinija V.R.
Professor and Head, Food Processing Business Incubation Centre,
NIFTEM, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
Email ID: sinija@iifpt.edu.in

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Author

An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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