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Depleting Nutrients In Wheat And Rice: ICAR study

Depleting Nutrients In Wheat And Rice: ICAR study

Why in news?

  • Recently, researchers from various institutes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya found depleting trends in grain density of zinc and iron in rice and wheat cultivated in India.
  • The researchers collected seeds of rice (16 varieties) and wheat (18 varieties) from the gene bank maintained at the ICAR’s Cultivar repositories.

Findings of the study 

  • Zinc Concentrations in Rice and Wheat:
    • For rice:Zinc concentrations in grains of rice cultivars depleted to 20.6 mg/kg (2000s) from 27.1 mg/kg (1960s)
    • For wheat: The concentrations of zinc dropped to 23.5 mg/kg during the 2010s from 33.3 mg/kg (1960s)
  • Iron Concentrations in Rice and Wheat:
    • For rice: Iron concentrations in grains of rice cultivars depleted to  43.1 mg/kg within the 2000s from 59.8 mg/kg (1960s).
    • For wheat: The concentrations of iron dropped to 46.4 mg/kg (2010s) from 57.6 mg/kg (1960s).
  • A cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.

Reason for the Decrease

  • Dilution effect’ that is caused by decreased nutrient concentration in response to higher grain yield.
  • This means the rate of yield increase is not compensated by the rate of nutrient take-up by the plants. Also, the soils supporting plants could be low in plant-available nutrients.


  • The negative effects need to be circumvented by improving the grain ionome (that is, nutritional make-up) while releasing cultivars in future breeding programmes.
  • Growing newer-released (1990s and later) cultivars of rice and wheat cannot be a sustainable option to alleviate zinc and iron malnutrition in Indian population.
  • There is a need to concentrate on other options like biofortification, where we breed food crops that are rich in micronutrients.

What is Biofortification?

  • It is the process of increasing nutritional value of food crops by increasing the density of vitamins and minerals in a crop through either conventional plant breeding; agronomic practices or biotechnology.                                          Depleting Nutrients In Wheat And Rice: ICAR study
  • Examples of biofortification projects include:
    • Provitamin A carotenoid-biofortification of sweet potato, maize and cassava.
    • Iron-biofortification of rice, beans, sweet potato, cassava, and legumes.
    • Amino acid and protein-biofortification of sorghum and cassava.
    • Zinc-biofortification of wheat, rice, beans, sweet potato, and maize.

Benefits Of Biofortification

  • It reaches the country’s most vulnerable people living in remote rural areas with no access or money for commercially marketed fortified foods.
  • Increasing the micronutrient levels in staple crops can help prevent and reduce the micronutrient deficiencies in the poor.
  • Biofortification is sustainable. It produces higher yields in an environmentally friendly way.
  • It is cost effective after an initial large research investment. The recurrent costs are low and the germ plasm can be shared globally making it highly cost-effective.

Challenges for Biofortification in India

  • Lack of consumer acceptance due to color changes (e.g. golden rice) and last mile reach of fortified food remains a big challenge.
  • Adoption of farmers and cost involved in the process of fortification also poses a challenge for biofortification in India.
  • Though biofortification can be done using non-genetically-modified methods it is a slower process than genetic modification.
  • The existence of an effective seed and rural extension system for multiplication and dissemination of new varieties will also pose a challenge.

What Is Agronomic Biofortification?

  • It entails application of minerals such as zinc or iron as foliar or soil applications, drawing on plant management, soil factors, and plant characteristics to get enhanced content of key micronutrients into the edible portion of the plant.                    Depleting Nutrients In Wheat And Rice: ICAR study

Biofortification Vs Food Fortification

  • Biofortification has the increased nutritional micronutrient content embedded in the crop being grown.
  • Food fortification increases the nutritional value of foods by adding trace amounts of micronutrients to foods during processing.

Government Initiatives

  • Madhuban Gajar, a biofortified carrot variety, is benefitting more than 150 local farmers in Junagadh, Gujarat. It has higher β-carotene and iron content.
  • The Prime Minister dedicated 17 biofortified varieties of 8 crops to the nation. Some examples:
    • Rice- CR DHAN 315 has excess zinc.
    • Wheat- HI 1633 rich in protein, iron and zinc.
    • Maize- Hybrid varieties 1, 2 and 3 are enriched with lysine and tryptophan.
  • The production of bio-fortified crop varieties will be upscaled and linked with government programmes of mid-day meal, Anganwadi etc. to reduce malnutrition.
  • ICAR has started Nutri-Sensitive Agricultural Resources and Innovations (NARI) programme for promoting family farming linking agriculture to nutrition, nutri-smart villages for enhancing nutritional security and location specific nutrition garden models are being developed to ensure access to locally available, healthy and diversified diet with adequate macro and micronutrients.                                        Depleting Nutrients In Wheat And Rice: ICAR study


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