More than 50m Pakistanis suffering from zinc deficiency

Ijaz Kakakhel

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a seminar on “addressing zinc deficiency through biofortification of wheat” Wednesday stressed for spreading the use of Zink through wheat biofortification to address the issue of 50 million people in the country who are zink deficient. Pakistan is facing serious challenges of malnutrition and food insecurity.

Climate change and recent flooding have created further threats to deteriorate the situation. Malnutrition cost Pakistan $7.6 billion every year due to the lost labor, health care expenses, and lower productivity of human capital.

This was said by the experts addressing to the media workshop “addressing zinc deficiency through biofortification of wheat” here at a local hotel. The workshop was organized by HarvestPlus and AGAHE, a civil society organization.

The workshop was attended by a large number of agriculture scientists, health professionals, UN agencies, civil society representatives, and representatives of print and electronic media.

Dr. Imtiaz Hussain, Member Plant Science Division at Pakistan Agriculture Research Council said that wheat constitutes over 70% of the diet of common Pakistanis. Biofortification of Wheat is the most suitable, cost effective and sustainable strategy for addressing Zinc deficiency.

The government of Pakistan has included biofortification as a part of its strategies to address malnutrition in the country.

He said that with the support of HarvestPlus, federal and provincial wheat programs have developed three wheat varieties which are Zincol 2016, Akbar 2019, and Nawab 2021.

Millions of farmers are cultivating these varieties due to their characteristics of better yield, resistance against diseases, and high zinc nutrition.

There are more wheat varieties in the pipeline, which may help in addressing the widespread zinc deficiency in Pakistan. Munawar Hussain, Advisor at HarvestPlus Pakistan said that a warming climate is a direct nutritional threat to the billions of smallholder farmers who rely on staple food crops for much of their diet.

He said that as per the World Bank report, the rising temperature may cause 3-17% depletion of protein and nutrient content of crops especially iron and zinc. The crops may lose 8-10% yield with the rising temperature.

He added that Biofortification increases the level of micronutrients in many crops that are likely to lose nutritional value due to rising CO2 and temperature levels.