Improving crop nutrient management to benefit human health

There is enough food in the world to go around but almost a billion people go hungry every day and two billion people are undernourished – the intake or absorption of vitamins and minerals (such as zinc, iodine, and iron) are too low to sustain good health and development (often called “hidden hunger”). Micronutrient deficiency is often overlooked and difficult to detect, but weakens the immune system, stunts physical and intellectual growth, and can even lead to death.

Hidden hunger is a problem that impacts both the developing and the developed world. 60-80% of the world’s 6 billion people are iron deficient, more than 30% suffer from zinc deficiency, 30% of the population are iodine deficient and about 15% are selenium deficient. Four million preschool-age children have visible eye damage due to Vitamin A deficiency.
In the UK, the current Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 60 and 70 μg selenium per day for females and males respectively, however mean British intake is around 70-80% of the RNI. In case of iron there are indications that substantial proportions of some population groups (children aged 1½–3½ years, girls aged 11–18 years and women aged 19–49 years) have iron intakes that are below the lower Reference Nutrient Intake RNIs set for iron.
Eating more fruit and vegetables can be a remedy for “hidden hunger”. Moreover, epidemiological studies have shown additional health-promoting effects of phytonutrients such as lycopene, flavonoids, glucosinolates, found in fruit and vegetables.
Crops with improved nutritional quality can overcome the “hidden hunger”. Crop biofortification could be some of the most cost-effective of all public health interventions and thus within the economic reach of even the world’s poorest. At EMR nutrient management research focuses not only on increasing productivity and market value and controlling plant diseases risk but as well as to improve the health-promoting properties of fruits and vegetables. However, we need to better understand nutrient influence on biosynthetic pathways and accumulation processes of micro- and phyto-nutrient to enable us to modify the nutritional quality of fruit and vegetables efficiently.

Global map presenting hidden hunger index based on the prevalence estimates (HHI-PD) in 149 countries and prevalence of low urinary iodine concentration in 90 countries with 2007 Human Development Index <0.9. (PLoS One. 2013 Jun 12;8(6):e67860)