New zinc biofortified maize variety
New zinc biofortified maize variety BIO-MZN01, recently released in Colombia. Photo courtesy of CIMMYT archives.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Global grain and food industry experts met earlier this month at the 4thLatin American Cereals Conference to discuss the growing and complex problem of malnutrition

 “After declining for nearly a decade to around 770 million, the number of hungry people has increased in the last two years to more than 850 million,” said Martin Kropff, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), in the opening address of the conference.

Martin Kropff director general of CIMMYT
Martin Kropff, director general of CIMMYT

“Those people suffer from calorie malnutrition and go to bed hungry at night, which is a terrible thing,” Kropff added. “But the diets of 2 billion persons worldwide lack essential micronutrients — Vitamin A, iron, or zinc — and this especially affects the health and development of children under 5 years old.”

“The solution? Good, healthy diets,” said Kropff, “which in turn depend on having enough food available, but also diverse crops and food types and consumer education on healthy eating.”

Co-organized by CIMMYT and the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC), the conference from March 11-14 in Mexico City, Mexico, attracted more than 220 participants from 46 countries, including professionals in agricultural science and production, the food industry, regulatory agencies, and trade associations.

“We are dedicated to spreading information about cereal science and technology, processing, and the health benefits of cereals,” said Hamit Köksel, president of the ICC and professor at Hacettepe University, Turkey, to open the event. “Regarding the latter, we should increase our whole grain consumption.”

One way to improve the nutrition and health of the poor who cannot afford dietary supplements or diverse foods is through “biofortification” of the staple crops that comprise much of their diets.

CIMMYT has developed high-yielding maize and wheat lines and varieties that feature enhanced levels of grain zinc and are being used in breeding programs worldwide.

A central issue on the conference agenda was promoting awareness about the importance of healthy diets and the role of whole grains.

Participants discussed published studies showing that whole grain foods, including processed ones, are associated with a significantly reduced risk of chronic diseases and obesity, said Carlos Guzmán, who leads wheat quality research at CIMMYT and helped organize the conference.

“There is a global movement to promote the consumption of whole grains and the food industry worldwide is responding to rising consumer demand for whole grain products,” he said.

Guzmán also thanked the conference sponsors: Bimbo, Bastak Instruments, Brabender, Foss, Chopin Technologies, Perten, Stable Micro Systems Scientific Instruments, Cereal Partners Worldwide Nestlé and General Mills, Stern Ingredients-Mexico, World Grain, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and Megazyme.