12 October 2022, India: In a significant step toward sustainably scaling biofortified crops and foods in India, a prominent milling company has launched a branded whole-grain flour product made with zinc-enriched wheat. The resulting increased demand for zinc wheat for flour production will provide a new incentive for Indian farming households to grow this nutritious crop, benefiting their livelihoods as well as their health.
Arti Roller Flour Industries Pvt. Ltd., based in Ludhiana, Punjab, was established in 1998 and has the capacity to reach half of the homes in India as well as the food service industry with their individual, pre-packaged products. Their zinc wheat flour, branded under the name City King, is being introduced initially in Punjab but will go nationwide over time.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with HarvestPlus to help scale up the production of zinc enriched wheat flour in India,” said D.C. Singla, CEO of Arti Roller Flour. “It is clear that consumers preference towards naturally- nutritious foods is gradually increasing. In fact, biofortified food can lead India from food security to nutrition security” he added.
Arti Roller Flour is owned by the Singla family, who see the value of zinc wheat to consumers and supports the mission of the CGIAR’s HarvestPlus program to improve the food system and nutrition security in India through naturally nutritious biofortified products. For its part, HarvestPlus will support Arti Roller Flour by advising on sourcing of wheat through smallholder farmers’ networks, and ensuring that wheat grain supplied by farmers meets required biofortification standards, through laboratory analysis and other means.
Targets low-to-middle income consumers
The target market for the zinc wheat flour is low- to middle-income consumers, since very-low-income Indians tend to buy loose flour, not branded or pre-packaged products. Zinc wheat flour responds to rapidly growing consumer interest in India and elsewhere for naturally nutritious foods—an interest that has picked up since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by raising awareness of foods which help strengthen immune systems and support good health in general. Consumers, especially younger consumers, are also interested in social responsibility and support products that seek to improve people’s lives as well as make a profit for the vendors.
The development and promotion of zinc wheat in India is aimed at addressing a serious public health issue: zinc deficiency. The mineral plays an important role in human growth, reproduction, and immunity. Lack of zinc in the diet is a leading cause of childhood stunting and increases vulnerability to serious infections such as diarrhea. An estimated 44 percent of children under five in India are zinc deficient. Apart from the direct human toll, India loses an estimated USD 12 billion in GDP annually from productivity losses linked to deficiencies in zinc and other micronutrients.
A new market for farmers
Developing a vibrant market for zinc wheat grain is key to motivating farming households to produce it because they depend on sales of surplus harvest to support their livelihoods. The HarvestPlus commercialization and scaling strategy also focuses on making biofortified products available to consumers in all markets, from loose formats to branded packaged foods, in order to reach as many people as possible with more-nutritious foods.
“Wheat forms a key component of Indian diets, and adoption of nutrient enriched Zinc Atta will go a long way in addressing widely prevailing micronutrient deficiency,” said Parminder Virk, head of crop development at HarvestPlus.
Arti Roller Flour is also the first company to adopt a new logo for biofortified foods that certifies the product is sourced from genuine zinc wheat grain that conform to a globally Publicly Available Specification for zinc-enriched grains. The logo is not intended to be a health claim, rather a signpost to consumers that they are buying a quality product that provides nutrition for their families and also positively impacts the wider food system.
In addition to working through the value chain, HarvestPlus and its partners are working to integrate zinc wheat and iron-biofortified pearl millet in India’s wide-reaching public support programs in order to reach the most vulnerable segments of the population. For example, in the states of Bihar and Odisha—the two Indian states with the country’s highest rates of stunting—a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on rapidly scaling production and consumption of zinc wheat. In another project, funded by the Happel Foundation, HarvestPlus has partnered with Akshaya Patra to pilot inclusion of zinc wheat and iron-biofortified pearl millet in the Government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme for children.
Biofortification activity in India is gaining momentum in large part from strong official support for it as a response to malnutrition, including from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2018, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) established minimum levels of iron and zinc to be bred in national varieties of pearl millet, providing a strong regulatory push for the development of iron pearl millet.
It is anticipated that the market for zinc wheat seed and grain in India will be able to mimic the success seen in Pakistan, where zinc wheat seeds are on a path to claim a majority of the commercial seed market, based on the HarvestPlus scaling and delivery strategy.
As of the end of 2021, HarvestPlus estimates that 1.1 million Indian smallholder farming households were growing zinc wheat and 218,000 were growing iron pearl millet. Zinc wheat varieties are developed in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), while iron pearl millet is developed with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Both are centers of the CGIAR global research partnership for a food secure future.
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