The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced two grants totaling $18.6 million to support the development of rice and cassava with enhanced micronutrients, offering disadvantaged people in Asia and Africa better nutrition and the opportunity to lead healthier, more productive lives.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was awarded $10.3 million to develop Golden Rice, a type of rice containing beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A — a vital nutrient that more than 90 million children in Southeast Asia lack. Building on previous funding from the foundation, the grant will support efforts to develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for the Philippines and Bangladesh in partnership with other organizations, including Helen Keller International, the Philippines Rice Research Institute, and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. In addition to evaluating the safety of different varieties, the project will work to secure regulatory approval, perform tests on the nutritional benefits of these varieties, and design a sustainable delivery program and plans to apply for regulatory approval of the varieties as early as 2013 in the Philippines and 2015 in Bangladesh.
The foundation also awarded $8.3 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center for the second phase of its BioCassava Plus project, which aims to boost the nutritional value of cassava. While cassava is a staple crop consumed by more than 250 million people in Africa, it offers limited nutritional value, leaving both children and adults at risk of severe health problems. The grant builds on previous funding from the foundation and will support cassava-enrichment efforts in partnership with a number of organizations, including the Nigerian National Root Crop Research Institute and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
"While the consequences of malnutrition are dire, especially for children, there is enormous potential for nutritionally enhanced foods to make substantial improvements to people's health," said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation's global development program. "If small farmers choose to grow these new improved crops, we expect to see not only their health improve, but also a ripple effect that means more prosperous lives."