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HyderabadApril 3Rice, wheat and maize the main staple food crops of the poor in India are set to receive a major scientific thrust to boost levels of nutrition, especially minerals and vitamins.

The Union Government's long-term initiative called `India Biofortification Programme' has got global support through HarvestPlus, which is co-led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

The Union Government and HarvestPlus have signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct research on increasing the level of essential vitamins and minerals, or micronutrients, in crops critical to poor people, by harnessing agricultural technology, according to a press release from the Washington-based IFPRI.

The diets of poor people in the country are often deficient in iron, zinc, and Vitamin A, for example, and such deficiencies can lead to illness, blindness, premature death and impaired mental development, particularly among women and children.

Biofortified crops can help address these nutritional deficiencies as poor people rely heavily on staple foods in their diets. HarvestPlus seeks to breed staple crops for better nutrition through a process known as "biofortification".

Under the MoU, HarvestPlus will help advance biofortification through a series of steps. These include development and sharing of methods and approaches for measuring minerals and vitamins in staple crops; exchange of research samples and data to advance biofortification research; and forging research partnerships with key Indian stakeholder institutions to study the nutritional content and impact on human health of micronutrients in biofortified staple crops.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 4, 2007)
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