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Attacking 'Hidden Hunger' with Biofortified Lentils

Oct 02,2015

Lentils are an excellent source of nutrition.

In developing countries, where people struggle to secure one square meal a day, nutritional concerns are often ignored. Micronutrient deficiencies often known as the 'hidden hunger' go unnoticed even in the developed world. In the developing world, it afflicts over two billion people.

More than 47% of women and pre-school children in developing countries suffer from iron deficiency that impairs physical and mental growth. Zinc deficiency is also prevalent and hampers growth and development, and weakens the immune system.

Lentils, which are an integral part of the staple diet of many poor people in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, are a good source of nutrition.  Through genetic enhancements, scientists have developed micronutrient-dense varieties of lentil that are rich in iron and zinc. This is an effective way to combat micronutrient malnutrition, particularly for the poor for whom diverse foods and nutrient supplements are beyond reach.

ICARDA's scientists have been working with the Pulses Research Centre of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) under the HarvestPlus Program to breed crop varieties with higher iron and zinc concentration and developing the related production technologies.

In early 2015, BARI released a micronutrient-rich variety - BARIMasur-8 - which is an outstanding lentil line developed from a crossing made between a Bangladeshi lentil cultivar and an ICARDA breeding line. It was selected from among 412 lines supplied by ICARDA.

While in the commonly available local varieties, iron and zinc contents vary between 55-62 ppm and 32-41 ppm respectively, this improved variety has iron and zinc contents in the range of 72-75 ppm and 58-60 ppm respectively - a significant gain in micronutrient nourishment.

Other advantages of this variety are its enhanced seed yield of 2000-2200 kg/ha as compared to 1050-1100 kg/ha with the previous varieties. Also it's a short-duration variety maturing in 110-115 days, fitting in well with the existing cropping patterns.

To read ICARDA's recent publications related to nutrition potential and the opportunity in lentil, visit: 
Lentils (Lens culinaris L.), a Rich Source of Folates
Lentils (Lens culinaris L.): Linking Whole Foods for Better Human Health (pp. 193-208)

Supported by: CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health and HarvestPlus