Hey reddit! We're HarvestPlus, one of eight organizations competing in the MacArthur Foundation's 100&Change competition for one $100 million grant! We're here to answer questions about our proposal.

About our proposal: we are trying to eliminate "hidden hunger" in Africa, dangerous and damaging nutrient deficiencies, by fortifying staple crops, since more than two billion people globally have diets that are lacking sufficient vitamins and minerals. Our goal is to reach 1 billion people by 2030.

We will be on at 10AM ET to answer your questions. AUA!


We're live now! AUA.


It's been a fun one, but that's it for us today! Many thanks to everyone who has participated in today’s chat. We really value your input, we'll learn from your insightful questions, and we will incorporate your feedback into our revised proposal.

Our proposal and why we're doing this:





Comments: 139 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

Ohmanitsthatguy106 karma

Why is every question asked from brand new users? Are these your employees posing as redditors?

macfound-9 karma

My colleagues and I are Reddit newbies! This is the first time many of us have used this site. It has been fun. We promoted this chat throughout our community of stakeholders and on other social media sites and we are delighted that so many people have engaged!

shagilabagila73 karma

I have been working in Zanzibar on improving agricultural production through improved farming techniques, namely agroforestry, permaculture, biointensive gardening, small-scale land forming for water retention, and improved seeds (specifically drought tolerant seeds) among other interventions. A huge concern among our farmers, and those throughout Tanzania, is the influx of hybrid seeds that are dominating the markets and slowly pushing out local seed saving mechanisms that have in place for many, many years. Are you fortification methods taking into consideration the ability to replant, or are most of your seeds hybridized?

macfound-25 karma

HarvestPlus and our partners develop both types of varieties – open-pollinated varieties (OPVs), which allow farmers to regrow farm-saved seed, and also hybrids. For example, in developing micro-nutrient dense varieties, our partners at the non-profit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) started converting three popular African open-pollinated cultivars (Obatanpa, ZM305 and SAM4) into vitamin A versions. By now, farmers are successfully growing these varieties, for example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also, between 2012 and 2016, ten vitamin A OPVs developed by our partner, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, were released in Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have been delivered to farmers by public and private sector partners. (HarvestPlus, Wolf Pfeiffer)

NeverIdleStorage63 karma

How will fortified Gross grain production eliminate hidden hunger if significant Postharvest and input Loss like aflatoxin, continues long after Africans harvest, aggregate, store and process grain (Cardwell - USDA National Program Leader with National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 2015)?

macfound-36 karma

So sorry to overlook this question - I thought I had answered it already - apologies. (I answered a similar question later in the chat, and I definitely did not mean to ignore this one!) Thanks to all who upvoted it.

Aflatoxin is indeed a serious problem, and other researchers are doing important work to tackle it, including the development of AflaSafe by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, as well as better storage processes.

An important part of the biofortification crop breeding process is to ensure that the micronutrient levels remain high enough to make a difference nutritionally even after storage and cooking. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

AlainVidal26 karma

1 billion people by 2030 is a massive scaling up. Do you plan to engage with the business sector to achieve this and, if so, how?

macfound14 karma

Yes, absolutely! We are already working with many private seed companies, food manufacturers and retailers in Africa. In order for us to meet our goal of reaching one billion people with sustainable, cost-effective food solutions, it is vital that we create and support sustainable, value chains from farm to plate.

kosha019 karma

Is biofortification any cheaper than fortifying foods/staples with the actual vitamins and minerals? And how effective is it in providing the vitamins and minerals to the consumers?

macfound12 karma

That’s the great thing about biofortification. It’s a one time investment that keeps on giving! The costs for producing biofortified crops are largely front-loaded. Once varieities are successfully produced, the costs for biofortification drop precipitously as research moves to a maintenance breeding phase from the development phase and the costs are much less expensive than fortification. Research from efficacy and effectiveness trials have shown that biofortification is very cost-effective in delivering these additional amounts of vitamins and minerals and addressing micronutrient deficiencies.

wchilufya6 karma

I came across this; Biofortification of staple crops is seen as Trojan horse for the acceptance of genetically engineered food and further consolidation of corporate control on food and agriculture. what is your comment?

macfound1 karma

None of the biofortified crops developed by HarvestPlus and our partners and released by government authorities around the world have been genetically modified. We are a non-profit research organization and our mission is to reach vulnerable, low-income rural families not reached by other interventions. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

chumbawumba725 karma

Hey guys, thanks for hopping on here and congrats on being in the running for $100 million. A couple of questions:

1) What if your solution doesn't succeed? Is there a condition that you have to produce results with the money?

2) How do you know the science behind your proposal works? Can you provide us with a few specifics?

3) What happens if you don't win, how will you achieve your goals?

HarvestPlus1 karma

Hello, we’re thrilled to have made it this far in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. Thanks for your excellent questions. Here are a few answers:

1) As with any grant of this size, we will establish clear milestones and targets for every single aspect of our program. We will be responsible for meeting these targets for the lifetime of the grant. If we do not meet some of our goals, we will work closely with the MacArthur Foundation to learn from our experiences, adjust our strategy and improve our ability to cost-effectively deliver biofortified crops at scale. If we do fall short of some goals, we feel confident that other milestones will be exceeded along the way, allowing us to have a major impact on the lives of millions people in the fight against micronutrient deficiency.

2) The science behind biofortification is truly interdisciplinary, including plant breeding, nutrition and social sciences. We know biofortification works because the research has been conducted and/or validated by top scientists in these fields and peer reviewed at all levels (from study design to publication of the results).

For breeding – more than 150 biofortified varieties of 10 crops have been released in more than 30 countries.

For nutrition and social sciences – all evidence on nutritional impact of iron and vitamin A biofortified crops and the consumer acceptance and farmer adoption of these have been published in top field journals and presented at top academic conferences to get peer feedback and endorsement.

Here is a link to our evidence brief for further details http://harvestplus.org/node/609

3) We already feel like winners because of the visibility it has given us and because of the opportunity to learn from the Foundation’s experts and their advisors. If we don’t win the competition, we will continue to work with our 200+ partners around the world to accelerate access to biofortified crops.

Ngabonziza842 karma

How has biofortification benefited people? Any figures showing the impact on people's lives?

macfound0 karma

We now have a substantial body of evidence to show that biofortified foods can improve people’s nutrition and health. Biofortified staple crops like vitamin A maize, cassava, and sweet potato can provide between 25% and 100% of a child’s daily vitamin A needs. Eating biofortified vitamin A sweet potato also significantly reduces the prevalence and duration of diarrhea in children. Consumption of vitamin A sweet potato also reduces the likelihood of vitamin A deficiency in women. Regular consumption of Vitamin A maize over 6 months significantly improved visual function in children. High iron beans help prevent and reverse iron deficiency in young women when consumed daily. High iron pearl millet helps reverse iron deficiency in school children in just three months of daily consumption as part of their traditional diet. When eaten twice daily, biofortified beans provided 75% of women’s daily iron needs. Consuming high iron beans prevents and reverses iron deficiency. Rwandan women who ate high iron beans were more physically active during the day and performed better on tasks involving memory and attention. Iron pearl millet reversed iron deficiency in children aged 12-16 years in India within three months. Children’s physical activity levels and cognitive performance also improved in 6 months. Zinc absorption by the body from biofortified zinc wheat is significantly greater than from common varieties. Preliminary results from another study showed fewer days of disease in women and children who ate food made of high zinc wheat. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

ekelemevictor3 karma

In a scenario where you have supplementation, fortification and bio fortification running con-currently, should we not be concerned with micronutrient overdose?

macfound6 karma

Micronutrient overdose is not an issue with biofortification. Provitamin A carotenoids do not contribute to hypervitaminosis A because bioconversion to active (potentially toxic) vitamin A. If this problem arises, it is due to the use of preformed vitamin A (retinol palmitate) added to foods post-harvest or given as supplements. Iron toxicity from biofortified crops is also not likely because of inherent homeostatic control of iron absorption, which is determined mainly by iron stores. Zinc toxicity is not an area of concern given the lack of preventive zinc supplementation or fortification interventions. The maximum contribution of biofortified crops with Zn (wheat and rice) does not exceed 30% of the estimated daily requirement.

Trick0ut7 karma

a ton of words i had to look up in this LOL

macfound0 karma

You should be sitting here with our nutrition team! They're awesome! but I need my online dictionary every day (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

redditreddit44443 karma

Which nutrients/vitamins are most lacking in people's diets? Is protein one of them?

macfound2 karma

The World Health Organization has identified vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc as the most deficient in the diets of low-income people around the world. The problem is especially severe in developing countries. There are also populations with folate, calcium, and some amino acids deficiency, but not as profound as the former micronutrients. Protein deficiency is significant but less prevalent in these populations. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

mdhamankar2 karma

Hi, i agree with the approach of enhancing the nutritive value of existing food crops to ensure that they remain acceptable - what is your strategy to make sure that they remain affordable? esp. if farmers will have to 'buy' seed instead of own-saved; and also whats your plan to make enough quality seed available?

Another question is - a commonly cited example of bio fortified crops is the orange fleshed sweet potato rich in Vit.A. However the uptake of the crop is not as much as it ought to be - likewise I saw that the Quality Protein Maize is not grown by many farmers in northern Nigeria as they do not see any added economic value. On the contrary they complained that the cost of production is higher than regular varieties. How do you plan to address the trade off between economic returns and nutrition benefits of biofortified crops?

macfound0 karma

Many thanks for these insightful questions. At HarvestPlus we work on micronutrient (vitamin A, iron and zinc) biofortified crops. We do not work with macronutrient (e.g. protein) biofortifed crops so we’re not really the best experts to answer your question on QPM.

For orange sweet potato (OSP) in Uganda, where we have been delivering OSP varieties since 2007, we estimate that 483,418 farming households were growing and consuming OSP by the end of 2016. The total number of sweet potato farming households in Uganda is approximately 2,250,000. This results in 21.5% of sweet potato farming households growing and consuming OSP. According to the of the BMGF funded DIIVA (Diffusion and Impacts of Improved Varieties in Africa) project findings, the popular improved sweet potato variety in Uganda in 2011 was NASPOT 1, which was released in 1999. That variety was planted by 7.3% of the farmers and it is the only improved variety in the top 10 most popular varieties list for that year. Therefore, 21.5% adoption figure for OSP (combination of several OSP varieties) seems very promising.

With regards to the costs of planting material for biofortified crops: with the exception of hybrid varieties (vitamin A maize and iron pearl millet), all biofortified varieties can be replanted (iron beans, zinc rice and wheat, vitamin A cassava and sweet potato) and keep their micronutrient content – along with agronomic attributes – with each planting cycle. For micronutrient biofortified crops, our evidence shows higher yields than traditional varieties (and at least same level of yield as other improved varieties) under same growing and input use condition.

TMSS_Bangladesh2 karma

One billion by 2030 is a huge target no doubt. Do you have any plan to set a specific target of population in specific country/continent to reach one billion?

macfound1 karma

We agree that this is an ambitious goal, but a worthy one in the fight against micronutrient deficiency. Yes, to achieve this goal we work with all of our country programs to set specific targets based on the timing of crop readiness and release within each country, the partnerships we have established, the specific crop markets and conditions for scale-up, and the micronutrient needs of the country. To aid us in deciding where to work, we have developed the Biofortification Priority Index (BPI). See link here: http://harvestplus.org/knowledge-market/BPI. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma).

soicalap162 karma

Micronutrient availability is one piece of the puzzle of malnutrition. Are you also working on other areas like aflatoxin in maize or sanitation?

macfound3 karma

We absolutely agree that other interventions are vital. While we do not work directly on aflatoxin or on water, sanitation and hygiene, we work closely with partners in the public and private sectors and civil society who include those interventions in their programs. We are all working towards the same set of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If we all work together in a joined way, we are confident that we can achieve these ambitious goals and make a sustainable impact on millions of lives. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

soicalap162 karma

How you/seed companies/processors/millers are guaranteeing the quality control/quality analysis of the crops? how the consumer can be sure that he/she is getting biofortified beans, meal, grains?

macfound1 karma

As with any new start up, we are learning every day about how to take our products and ingredients to scale in a complex food system. We have worked with leading universities and technology providers to develop sophisticated methodologies and equipment to test the nutrient levels in our seeds and crops. As these new varieties and grains become more desirable in the supply chain, we will be sharing all of these learnings and working with governments and companies to develop robust traceability and quality assurance standards. As a non-profit research program focusing on delivering a public good, we invite all the help and support we can get!

luigiguarino1 karma

Will you work with genebanks? If so, which ones, and how?

HarvestPlus2 karma

HarvestPlus works with an International non profit research network which does agricultural research all over the world and which accesses germplasm from genebanks all around the world. For example in Colombia there is an impressive collection of beans which we would use for accessing bean varieties. So depending on which crop we are working on we would find the genebank which has the germplasm – potato and sweetpotato in Peru, pulses in India, maize and wheat in Mexico. The list of genebanks is impressive and we are fortunate to be able to tap into these resources

Ngabonziza842 karma

Hello there! I am among those that have monitored your work in Rwanda through news coverage. I would like to know about the work you have done in as far as biofortification is concerned in Rwanda. Furthermore, how do you plan to meet 1 billion people by 2030?

macfound3 karma

Muraho! Glad to hear that you have been following our work in Rwanda! Our extensive research shows that 28% of Rwandan farmers have tried growing and 20% of farmers are currently growing biofortified crops. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

Here is a link to a summary of our work in Rwanda: http://harvestplus.org/where-we-work/rwanda

And here is a music video from Rwanda promoting high iron beans: https://youtu.be/fo6449Rd3I0

wchilufya1 karma

what fears are there around biofortified crops among the general public?

macfound3 karma

Fortunately, the general public so far has been very supportive about the potential of biofortification. When we speak to farmers, their first question is "will these crops be as high yielding as my traditional variety?" the answer is a resounding yes! We also sometimes get asked if our crops are genetically modified and we can quickly reassure them that none of our crops are GMO. They are all developed using traditional, conventional breeding. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

macfound0 karma

Another good question we often get from the nutrition community is “shouldn’t people be eating a diverse diet that includes fruits, vegetables and protein?” We completely agree that the ideal would indeed be a nourishing, diverse diet. Unfortunately, those foods are often out of reach of the low-income rural families we target.

Another question that we hear is about the change in color in vitamin A crops. The beta carotene turns crops like cassava, maize and sweet potato orange or yellow. However, once we explain the nutritional benefits, farmers and other consumers have been willing to try them and to continue to grow and eat them time and again. Also, the beta carotene gives these foods a sweeter taste, making them tastier to children, which has also increased consumption. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

Oyama-G1 karma

Hello, two questions please 1) A lot of work on bio-fortification is evident in Southern Nigeria, what is HarvestPlus Nigeria doing about the conditions in Northern Nigeria? 2) How sure are we that bio-fortified varieties are not GMOs?

macfound1 karma

You’re right – we have been working extensively with partners to disseminate vitamin A cassava in several states in Nigeria, and have recently begun to introduce vitamin A maize in northern Nigeria. None of the crops released to date by HarvestPlus and its partners are genetically modified.

TMSS_Bangladesh1 karma

100 million is mostly focused on African countries. Is there any plan to allot a part of it for Asia and Latin America to reach your target by 2030 ?

macfound5 karma

Yes! We are already reaching 20 million people across Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have plans to scale up our program on all three continents using the valuable lessons we have learned from our pilots in 10 countries. If we are fortunate to win the 100&Change grant of $100m, we will allocate this to scaling up our Africa programs. This will allow us to divert existing core funds to develop our activities and partnerships in Asia and Latin America. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

createafrica151 karma

How can we strengthen partnerships with large scale food companies and get them to incorporate biofortified crop produce?

macfound0 karma

As we move into the scale up phase of our program, we have been approached by several multinational food companies who are interested in sourcing our biofortified grains. Our priority is to ensure that our target beneficiaries (rural smallholders in developing countries) are growing and consuming these nutritious crops. We believe that major food companies can help us to accelerate the global availability of biofortified seeds and varieties and we are excited to have these conversations about sustainable and inclusive sourcing.

wchilufya1 karma

Is there any other crops that Harvest Plus Zambia is looking at for promotion apart from the Orange maize?

HarvestPlus1 karma

Zambia is very fortunate to have three biofortified crops released: vitamin A (orange) maize, high iron beans and orange sweet potato. We work with partners to promote them because we believe that it will take all of us working together to reach the whole country.

macfound1 karma

We have been working with partners who work throughout Zambia to promote these more nutritious crops. This includes private seed companies, NGOs and projects working in agriculture and nutrition so that more people can grow and eat biofortified maize, beans and sweet potato (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

wchilufya1 karma

Is there anything like having an overdose of Vitamin A? what would happen if one had an overdose of vitamin from the orange maize meal?

macfound1 karma

That’s the beauty of delivering these nutrients naturally through everyday crops. It is not possible to overdose from provitamin A carotenoids (the vitamin A precursor in biofortified crops). Our bodies control how much of these compounds are converted to the active vitamin A, according to physical need. If the body is deficient – i.e., needs vitamin A, then the conversion and storage will occur. If there is no deficiency, the carotenoids will be used for other purposes and be stored in the skin (yellow colored skin), a process that is not toxic. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

soicalap161 karma

If you encourage the consumption of staple crops like wheat, rice or corn (although biofortified), won't you contribute to the over-weight and obesity problem?

macfound2 karma

Ideally, everyone would have access to fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins, but those remain out of reach for many low-income families in Africa. We are therefore working to improve the nutrient content of the staple foods that many families currently rely on as their only source of energy. Biofortification does not promote higher consumption of those starchy staple crops and we work closely with other partners to work towards the longer term goal of alleviating poverty and promoting access to diverse diets. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

andrezed1 karma

The challenge of market driven solutions is never one size (or variety fits all) - how do you plan to balance product development (demand driven plant breeding) with delivery (scaling)?

macfound2 karma

Having worked on the delivery of biofortified crops in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the past 5 years, we completely agree that we need multiple varieties of multiple crops delivered through multiple modalities – ranging from partnerships with the public sector and civil society to private sector (local, national and multi-national).

Our vision is to have biofortification (higher micronutrient content) to be mainstreamed in breeding programs at both international level by the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) and at national level by national agricultural research centers. Until that happens, we will continue to invest in product development to ensure farmers’ and consumers’ needs are met as climate, diets and preferences change.

Our vision for scaling up is to work with the appropriate delivery partner for each crop market in each country. For example for hybrid orange maize in Zambia, where there is a formal seed system for maize, we work with the private seed companies, while for vegetatively propagated orange sweet potato in Uganda, where there are no formal seed systems for that crop, we work with NGOs such as World Vision to reach beneficiaries.

Tahinduka0 karma

Hi, 1billion people by 2030 is a good and ambitious plan. 1.How do you plan to reach non farming communities with bio fortified crops? 2. Reaching the target you will need to have a very sharp and effective Behavior change strategy. How are you planning to change mindsets of communities that still believe in traditional breeds that are not bio-fortified?

macfound2 karma

Thank you! We agree that everyone who could benefit from biofortified foods should have access to them, including urban consumers. While our primary focus to date has been rural families with limited access to other nutrition interventions, we are also working with seed companies and governments to mainstream these nutrients into ALL new crops as a default setting. This will mean that everyone will have access to these more nutritious varieties wherever they live in the world. In the meantime, we are delighted that millers and food processing companies are already interested in using biofortified crops as ingredients. This will be a terrific way of scaling up access to one billion people! One of the advantages of biofortification is that very little behavior change is needed, because we are not changing the food that people currently eat. In the HarvestPlus plant breeding work, we never compromise on crop yields because this is the foremost concern for farmers – regardless of whether the new variety is biofortified. As long as the crop yields are good and they don’t look different, there is no need to worry about behavior change. Crops that have a color change from white to orange (such as the sweet potato, maize and cassava) do require some extra messaging, but as I mentioned in another answer, we have found people are very open to these foods once they understand their nutritional value, and children prefer these foods’ sweeter taste. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

johanele0 karma

To deliver on this huge social mission on HarvestPlus, there will be need for the deployment of social enterprise solutions. Does HarvestPlus have plan to work with notable global social enterprise networks like Ashoka etc, to explore social innovations that can scale the reach of biofortification?

macfound1 karma

We agree that social enterprise solutions will be important to scaling up biofortification. We have reached out to several of these organizations and look forward to working with them. One of my colleagues will be participating in an Ashoka meeting soon, in fact! (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

CCDB_Bangladesh0 karma

Biofortification is still a new concept, not mentioned in the dictionary. How does HarvestPlus plan on the introduction? What is the status of codex standard for biofortified crops?

HarvestPlus0 karma

The Codex Alimentarius definition of biofortification is undergoing its second submission by a working group headed by Zimbabwe and South Africa. The status is that the e-working group is integrating the three current definitions into one that the Codex committee will review in its next meeting. Once the definition is accepted by the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU), each country with a biofortified crop ready for the market will propose the standard for said crop and bring it up to the Codex Alimentarius for approval. The approved definition will be promoted in collaboration with the WHO and FAO at the global, regional and country levels. (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

jarviscali1 karma

As an aside, it was coined by Steve Beebe from CIAT. Nice story about him here: http://blog.ciat.cgiar.org/bean-expert/pulse-profile-steve-beebe-the-bean-breeder/

macfound1 karma

Yay for Steve Beebe! He is one of the coolest crops breeders you will ever meet and is the world's leading expert on high iron beans! (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

Denisikpali-1 karma

I am Denis from Nigeria,

How broad are your partnerships, what does it take to engage new partners?

macfound1 karma

We enjoy a broad array of partnerships around the world and Nigeria is a great example! We are working with seed companies for maize, stem multipliers for cassava, and small and medium enterprises that are processing vitamin A cassava into flour, garri and snacks for the market. We partner with the federal and state governments, universities, non-government organizations and farmer groups. We cannot do this without our amazing partners! (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)

John150488-1 karma

How can we bring medium and large scale processing companies to consider backward integration approaches to sourcing of raw materials? How can we organise producer clusters to leverage on this opportunity?

macfound0 karma

Creating a sufficient and sustainable supply of biofortified crops is the first step toward enabling food processors to integrate biofortified crops into their marketing channels and product portfolios. Once this is achieved, we work with them to ensure that the processing does not eliminate the additional micronutrients from the crops. We also use integrated marketing campaigns to build demand for biofortified foods using culturally relevant messaging.

johanele-2 karma

johanele • 40m Considering that biofortification provides a very sustainable pathway to make nutritious food available to rural dwellers in West Africa, please I want to know if HarvestPlus has any plan to creat strong and wide partnerships with relevant stakeholders to take biofortification to those that need it urgently in the underserved rural communities in West Africa?

macfound1 karma

We work with a broad array of partners in West Africa including the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, FARA and our research colleagues in the CGIAR centres and national agricultural research centers. In Nigeria, we are also working with private seed companies for maize, stem multipliers for cassava, and small and medium enterprises that are processing vitamin A cassava into flour, garri and snacks for the market. We partner with the federal and state governments, universities, non-government organizations and farmer groups. We cannot do this without our amazing partners in West Africa and around the world! (HarvestPlus, Bev Postma)