Flagship 2: Nutrition

We are working with NARES partners to develop more nutritious rice varieties, such as the beta carotene-fortified Golden Rice and high-iron and zinc-fortified rice, to improve the nutrition intake of the estimated 900 million poor and undernourished people worldwide who depend on rice as producers or consumers. 

Increasing the micronutrient content of rice grains, even by small amounts, can have a significant impact on human health due to the rice being a staple of half the world’s population. By steadily increasing the vitamin and mineral content of rice through underpinning its genetics adds value to it as a “preventive-medicine” food. 

Zinc (Zn) is an essential trace element in the human diet that is critical to boosting the immune system. Interestingly, Zn deficiency in the human diet coincides with Zn deficiency in soils where rice is grown. In South Asia, we enriched rice with Zn through fertilizer-application and crop-management practices. This is a very cost-effective and sustainable solution for South Asia. On other nutrition fronts, we have identified genes, genetics, and genotypes for transferring to rice grains with a low glycemic index (a value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels), high protein, and high-resistant starch (a type of starch that isn’t fully broken down and absorbed, but rather turned into short-chain fatty acids by intestinal bacteria, which can lead to some unique health benefits). Within 2 years, we can generate independent lines for these three traits. Such highly value-added and differentiated lines are the beginnings of new-market products. Importantly, in little more than 3 years, we hope to generate lines that contain all three of these traits in a single background making such varieties top-of-the-line premium rice with high export possibilities valued at billions of dollars. 

We have also identified genes and genotypes among colored rice landraces that are high in anticancer bioactive metabolites. In addition, genes for high productivity and starch structure for good texture and taste have also been identified. These can be pyramided together to generate healthier, high-yielding varieties without compromising grain, cooking, and eating qualities. They can be processed into products such as biscuits, popped or flattened rice, baby food, and ice cream.

We developed a digital tool, the Food Choice App, to critically assess how behavioral change communication (BCC) impacts diets under income shocks. A sample of 192 urban and rural Indian households from low- and middle-income classes in West Bengal, India, used the app to plan and budget their weekly diets under budget constraints. Women were found to be more empowered in planning for household food choices, especially when they are involved in food preparation for a large household. 

In Bihar, India, through a qualitative photovoice study, we did a deeper analysis on socio-cultural and other food environment drivers that shape rural consumers’ food purchase decisions and eating habits. By studying the rural food environment, we can now understand the effect of agriculture to deliver nutritional outcomes.