Chennai, Feb 24: Improving nutrient content in crops through breeding or genetic modification by the process of biofortification could be a remedy to the growing problem of malnutrition, according to experts. ''Biofortification is needed to check malnutrition and it has a crucial role to play in helping India tackle this problem,'' they said at the concluding session of a two-day international workshop on biofortification organised by the Department of Biotechnology and the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) here last evening.
Harvest Plus Programmes Global Director Howdy Bouis observed that poor people were eating food staples in large quantities. ''What we have to do is to put micronutrients in them in large quantities,'' he added. The Harvest Plus Programme is an alliance of institutions and scientists that work to promote biofortification as a means of addressing malnutrition. Observing that the main cause for malnutrition was poor diet that included high intake of food staples like rice and wheat which were nutrient deficient, he said deficiencies in micronutrients like Vitamin A, iron and iodine were widespread in India.
Eminent agriculture scientist and architect of Green Revolution in India M S Swaminathan expressed concern over the growing problem of ''hidden hunger'' in the country. There had been a shift in the national focus from food security to nutrition security, he said and added that ''food security is physical and economic access to food.'' ''But nutrition security is physical, economic and social access to a balanced diet and clean water,'' he noted.
Mr Swaminathan said despite restrictions on GM crops in India, plant breeding could also fortify crops. Department of Biotechnology in the Union Ministry of Science and Technology Advisor K S Charak, who was also present, said efforts were being made to enhance the iron, zinc amd vitamin A content in staple crops like rice, wheat and maize.
''Research is on to screen the germ plasm of crops to identify the nutrient-rich characteristics, but it will take at least four to five years before releasing such crops to farmers,'' he added.