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Experts say biofortified wheat offers food security solution

KARACHI: Authorities in Pakistan anticipate considerable climate-related decline in wheat production for the 2022-2023 season. And yet, food and agriculture experts are hopeful that production of zinc-enriched biofortified wheat will rapidly increase to approximately 5.4 million metric tonnes (MT) in the wheat cropping season of 2023, up from 3.5 MT in 2022.

Zinc wheat has the potential to help bring food security to Pakistan, as well as help overcome widespread and preventable zinc deficiency in the larger population.

“Pakistan is leading the way globally when it comes to scaling zinc wheat production,” said Jenny Walton, HarvestPlus Head of Commercialization and Scaling, following a recent visit to Pakistan during which she inaugurated zinc wheat flour production at a chakki mill in Faisalabad.

“Zinc wheat has commercial benefit for all supply chain players and results in a nutritious product that consumers need and want,” she added.

The owner of a chakki mill in Faisalabad, Mahboob Ahmed, echoed this sentiment, “At my mill there is a no difference in the price of the whole grain wheat flour made from zinc-enriched varieties compared to conventional wheat varieties.

My income has increased as more people are coming to my shop to buy zinc wheat flour.” He added, “I am thankful to HarvestPlus for building my capacity to supply people of my area with zinc wheat flour, which is good for their health and supports their immunity against diseases.”

Pakistan faces serious challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among women and children. Nearly one in every five children under five years old and over 20 percent of women are zinc deficient. Climatic changes including extreme flooding have further deteriorated the situation. Economists believe that malnutrition costs Pakistan USD 7.6 billion every year due to lost labor, healthcare expenses, and lower productivity of human capital.

To date, three varieties of biofortified zinc wheat – Zincol 2016, Akbar 2019, and Nawab 2022 -have been developed by the National and Provincial Wheat Programs with the support of HarvestPlus. These varieties are available for production and consumption in Pakistan.

“It is encouraging that millions of farmers have cultivated these zinc-enriched varieties due to their ability to provide high yield, resistance against diseases, and better zinc nutrition,” said Muhammad Anjum Ali Buttar, Director General of Extension and Adaptive Research at the Agriculture Department, Government of Punjab.

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