The double burden of malnutrition – nutrient deficiency, and overweight/obesity – is affecting the world population, and South Asia is no exception. A significant proportion of the population in South Asia is still nutritionally insecure. At least one in three children are stunted in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. In addition to stunting, South Asia has the highest rate of wasting; as a result, significant number of children are too short and too thin for their age. The intricate web of poverty and undernourishment results in impaired cognitive development, chronic diseases and lower future earnings. Furthermore, pandemics like COVID-19 exacerbate the crisis, and highlight further the importance of health and nutrition to overcome infectious diseases. The recent economic downturn due to COVID-19 pandemic is relegating millions of people into extreme poverty which will cause further food and nutrition insecurity challenges.
People in South Asia heavily rely on cereal-based dietary system in which rice, wheat and maize are major contributors. In 2018, South Asia produced almost 450 million tons of cereals, or about 15% of the global production. Although wheat and rice have major contributions in the average dietary composition of South Asians, the demand for maize as food continues in several pockets in the region, although the main use of maize is for animal feed.
There are several mitigation strategies to curb the challenges of malnutrition including nutrition education, fortification, supplementation, school feeding programs, biofortification, farming and diet diversification, etc. Biofortification of food crops is one of the agricultural strategies that can benefit more closely the farmers as consumers and can also impact the urban population. Maize together with rice and wheat, provides 60% of the world’s energy supply. In addition to being a major contributor to global and regional food and nutrition security, maize forms an important part of the culinary culture in many areas of south Asia. Although maize is a great source of macronutrients, it is also a source of many micronutrients and phytochemicals purported to confer health benefits. The process of biofortification through traditional plant breeding has increased the quality of protein (QPM), provitamin A (PVA), and kernel zinc (Zn) contents of maize. A number of biofortified maize varieties (PVA, Zn, QPM, QPM+Zn) have been released or in pipeline in South Asia for commercial cultivation. Despite the potential uses of biofortified maize in South Asia, maintaining nutritional quality, development of value-added products, agronomic practices to enrich nutritional quality, and quality seed production are critical aspects for maize stakeholders in the region to contribute to the larger agri-food system.
For the general matters regarding webinar
- Dr. AbduRahman Beshir: Maize Seed Systems Specialist,
- Dr Natalia Palacios-Rojas: Maize Quality Specialist,