Vitamin A deficiency has a grave effect on nutrition and mortality worldwide. Children and pregnant and lactating women, especially those in low socioeconomic classes, are at particular risk of blindness and death as a result of inadequate vitamin A. It is estimated that vitamin A deficiency affects 130 million children worldwide, and in India, approximately 330,000 children die each year as a result of insufficient intake.
CDDEP’s Golden Mustard project, funded by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia, examined the potential impact of biofortification of mustard in India. The Indian context presents specific challenges: widely dispersed food production systems and sporadic health center access have hampered interventions to distribute vitamin A supplements, industrially fortified foods, or biofortified seed products in the past. Infrastructural challenges are compounded by the under-recognition of the public health cost of the problem.
This project examined existing and potential interventions and determines that while supplementation is perhaps the most cost-effective means to alleviate the problem, biofortification of mustard could have distinct advantages. Because mustard oil is widely used in cooking in the most affected regions and its distribution is not dependent on access to health centers, biofortified mustard could reach a wider population.
While any widespread biofortification effort would face significant obstacles, CDDEP’s Golden Mustard project looked at how mustard biofortification could be an advantageous addition to a portfolio of strategies to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency in India.