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Biofortified wheat to help cut zinc deficiency

LAHORE:More than 3.5 million metric tons of zinc biofortified wheat grain harvested this year. This would help to reduce zinc deficiency in Pakistan where over 50 million people are zinc deficient.

Addressing a workshop on zinc deficiency Dr Anjum Ali Butter of Punjab Agriculture Department said scaling up of biofortification of wheat crop is among the priorities for his department to ensure provision of nutritious food to our people. He added that the government had launched three wheat varieties with the support of HarvestPlus, which are high in zinc content. These varieties include Zincol 2016, Akbar 2019 and Nawab 2021.

He further added that the certified seed production is increasing exponentially, and a large number of farmers are already growing biofortified zinc wheat in Pakistan. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million metric tons of the Zinc biofortified grain is being harvested in the country during this harvesting season, which is great news.

Dr M Imtiaz, Wheat Value Chain Specialist said that micronutrients deficiencies are wide spread in Pakistan and have profound effects on immunity, growth, and mental development of children. He added that more than 50 million people are zinc deficient in the country. He added that Zinc deficiency is among the key factors leading towards the existing severe malnutrition in Pakistan. He said that the Commercialization of Biofortified Crops (CBC), which is a partnership between HarvestPlus and GAIN, we have created biofortified wheat grains production hubs in five districts i.e. Faisalabad, Khanewal, Multan, Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan, which grow more than 3 million acres of wheat each year. These hubs are providing technological support to selected farmers and also helping in segregation of biofortified grain after the harvesting.

Munawwar Hussain, a consultant on agriculture, explained that the zinc Publically Available Specifications (PAS) are not legally binding standards, however, it can be used immediately by buyers as a requirement for the products they purchase. He mentioned that the global average baseline level of zinc in non-biofortified wheat is 25 mg/kg, the same as it is in Pakistan.

The incremental target above the baseline for the level of zinc in biofortified wheat is +12 mg/kg. This makes the zinc PAS ideal for Pakistan, and it doesn’t need any local modifications for use. He said that Zinc grain standards are imperative to support commercialization of biofortified foods. He urged wheat value chain actors to apply the standards in practice and called on Pakistani regulators to adopt these standards through their due procedures.

Fazal ur Rehman, Managing Director, Punjab Seed Corporation said that Punjab Seed Corporation is working to increase the certified seed production of zinc wheat varieties, which will ultimately help in addressing the zinc deficiency from the province.

Syed Saeed Qaisar Project Manager at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) said that the CBC programme works with supply chain actors such researchers, farmers, seed multipliers, food processors, millers, aggregators and retailers to develop commercial markets for biofortified seeds, grains and foods products.

He said that the programme is supporting wheat value chain actors and food departments in the target districts of Punjab to segregate the biofortified wheat to strengthen the supply chain for zinc-enriched foods.

Sikandar Khan, Team Leader Wheat at National Agricultural Research Center said that as a part of national priorities they will continue focusing on agricultural research to release more zinc enriched wheat varieties.

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