Biofortification: High zinc wheat programme – The potential agricultural options for alleviating malnutrition in Pakistan
Authors: Qadir Bux Baloch
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The deficiency of micronutrients (zinc, iron, iodine and vitamin A) is persistently afflicting millions of people living across Africa, Southern Americas, Asia and Pakistan. Among these, the zinc deficiency syndrome is occurring by 47.6, 41.3, and 39.2% in pregnant, non-pregnant and children under 5 years, respectively in Pakistan. The reason being that majority of the people subsists on cereal-based diets, i.e., wheat. The commercially grown wheat varieties contain zinc about 25 mg/g, whereas about 40 mg/g zinc is required in daily diet.The potential risk of zinc deficiency could be mitigated through certain interventions i.e., mineral drugs, food supplements, diversity in diets, production of fortified foods, and genetic biofortification of staple food crops. Among these, quantum increase in zinc content in wheat grains through genetic manipulation would be basics to alleviate zinc deficiency in the malnourished communities. The objective of the programme is to enhance the concentration of zinc nutrient from 25 to 40 mg/g in wheat grains through conventional plant breeding techniques. Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad in collaboration with Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and HarvestPlus, Pakistan started R&D works to develop biofortified high zinc wheat varieties containing around 40 mg/g in the year 2009. The biofortified wheat crop is developed through conventional plant breeding techniques. The germplasm inherited with high zinc nutrient are crossed with high yielding and adopted to ecological conditions. The varieties are high yielding, and inheriting zinc around 40 mg/g in the grains under both irrigated and rainfed production environments. The Government of Punjab has also given high priority to develop and consume biofortified high zinc wheat in its multi-sectoral Nutrition Strategy Plan 2015, as potential agricultural option to address malnutrition in the Punjab province.