BRRI dhan100’s release coincides with the birth centenary celebration of Bangabandhu, comes in handy in the fight against zinc-deficiency during the time of Covid-19

This couldn’t be better timed.

Breeders in Bangladesh have just released the most promising zinc-rich rice line yet.  

The new variety – enriched with high zinc content and high yield potential – got regulatory approval on Tuesday and reach to farmers for cultivation in the next Boro season, scientists at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) told Dhaka Tribune.

The release of – BRRI dhan100 – coincides with Bangabandhu’s birth centenary celebration year and is expected to come in handy in the fight against zinc-deficiency during the time of Covid-19.

Zinc is essential to good health and immunocompetence. Its deficiency is generally associated with a negative impact on overall health, increased susceptibility to disease, and infections.

Around 29% of South Asia’s population, including that of Bangladesh, are at risk of inadequate zinc intake, according to Harvest Plus, a program based at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that helped BRRI scientists develop six hi-zinc rice varieties since 2013.

Breeders in Bangladesh released the world’s first biologically fortified (biofortified) high-yielding variety zinc rice – BRRI dhan62 – back in August 2013. 

Biofortification is the idea of breeding crops to increase their nutritional value either through conventional selective breeding, or through genetic engineering. BRRI developed all six hi-zinc rice varieties, so far, through conventional breeding.

The varieties are – BRRI dhan62, BRRI dhan64, BRRI dhan72, BRRI dhan74, BRRI dhan84, and BRRI dhan100. 

Besides, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University and Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) also developed three zinc varieties with moderate success.

According to HarvestPlus Bangladesh, seeds of zinc rice varieties reached out to over 2.4 million farmers across Bangladesh over the past seven years and now state-run Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation’s (BADC) seed production and marketing efforts are also being supplemented by agro-companies like ACI, Lal Teer, Supreme Seed, Ispahani etc. 

What’s so promising about BRRI dhan100

One criticism about zinc rice varieties, now being produced, is that they are not in line with consumer preferences, undercutting the benefits of increasing awareness. 

Before the release of BRRI dhan100, the most competitive variety of zinc rice has been – BRRI dhan74. But its a coarse rice, while Bangladeshi consumers strongly prefer to consume fine rice. 

In head-to-head acceptability trials, consumers preferred existing, market-leading varieties of rice – BRRI dhan28 and 29 to BRRI-74.

HarvestPlus Bangladesh country head Khairul Bashar now hopes the slender feature of the new hi-zinc variety would be a winner. 

Unlike most of the previously released zinc rice varieties, the just-released one is finer in quality, and consumers in Bangladesh generally prefer fine rice over coarse rice.

Moreover, BRRI dhan100’s yield potential is higher than previous best zinc rice – BRRI dhan74, Bashar added.

BRRI scientists told Dhaka Tribune, per kg of BRRI dhan100 contains nearly 26mg of zinc and it has a high yield potential of nearly 7.7 tons per hectare.

Why do we need zinc? 

Zinc is involved in more body functions than any other mineral. 

Zinc deficiency can cause stunting and increase the risk of common childhood infections including diarrhea, pneumonia, and possibly malaria.

Billions of people — over 17% of the global population — are at risk of inadequate zinc intake. 

The prevalence of inadequate zinc intake is estimated to exceed 25% in sub-Saharan Africa and 29% in South Asia. 

Direct measures of the prevalence of zinc deficiency are scarce as the recommended method for measuring zinc deficiency is not used widely. 

Stunting is commonly used as a proxy to estimate the risk of zinc deficiency in a population. Approximately 23% of preschool-age children are stunted globally.

Cost of Zinc Deficiency 

•    Zinc deficiency contributes to stunting and a loss of appetite, lowers immunity, and increases the risk of diarrheal disease and respiratory infections.

•    36% of children under 5 in Bangladesh do not get enough zinc in their diet.

•    Annually, Bangladesh loses over $700 million in GDP to mineral and vitamin deficiencies (World Bank).

Rice is the staple food of Bangladesh, with daily per-capita rice consumption ranging between 390 grams to 450 grams. 

Given its high degree of consumption, rice is a good vehicle to deliver nutrition interventions at scale. Rice biofortified with zinc could help address the critical gap by delivering up to 60% of their daily dietary requirements of zinc.

More than 50 million people in smallholder farming families in 41 countries now benefit from biofortified crops, which are making a measurable impact on human nutrition, health, and development.

Several varieties of biofortified zinc rice and zinc wheat are now available or being tested in countries all over the world, including India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Today, biofortified crops, including vitamin A orange sweet potato, iron beans, iron pearl millet, vitamin A yellow cassava, vitamin A orange maize, zinc rice, and zinc wheat, have been released in more than 30 countries and are being tested and grown in more than 40 countries. 

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