Zinc-fortified wheat set to boost access to essential mineral for millions of poor people

Credit: Joslin Isaacson/HarvestPlus
Credit: Joslin Isaacson/HarvestPlus

Scientists at a leading global grains research institute expect to sharply ramp up new wheat varieties enriched with zinc that can boost the essential mineral for millions of poor people with deficient diets, the institute’s head told Reuters.

Martin Kropff, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), said he expects the newly-developed high-zinc wheat to make up at least 80% of varieties distributed worldwide over the next ten years, up from about 9% currently.

The Mexico-based institute’s research focuses on boosting yields, and livelihoods, of the world’s poorest farmers while also addressing specific challenges posed by climate change, including higher temperatures, less rainfall and constantly mutating plant diseases.

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The improved varieties of so-called biofortified wheat are being rolled out with the help of seed company partners in countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico and Bolivia.

Kropff said Asian giant China may also begin adopting the fortified wheat varieties this year.

Over the next decade, he said he expects nearly all newly deployed wheat varieties to be nutritionally improved, noting that the high-zinc varieties were developed by traditional breeding techniques instead of research based on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“This is something that is really starting in a big way this year,” said Kropff.

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