Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Plant breeding to control zinc deficiency in India: how cost-effective is biofortification?

Alexander J Steina1 c1, Penelope Nestela2, JV Meenakshia2, Matin Qaima1, HPS Sachdeva3 and Zulfiqar A Bhuttaa4

a1 Division of International Agricultural Trade and Food Security, University of Hohenheim (490b), 70593 Stuttgart, Germany

a2 HarvestPlus, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA

a3 Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi, India

a4 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan


Objective To estimate the potential impact of zinc biofortification of rice and wheat on public health in India and to evaluate its cost-effectiveness compared with alternative interventions and international standards.

Design The burden of zinc deficiency (ZnD) in India was expressed in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost. Current zinc intakes were derived from a nationally representative household food consumption survey (30-day recall) and attributed to household members based on adult equivalent weights. Using a dose–response function, projected increased zinc intakes from biofortified rice and wheat were translated into potential health improvements for pessimistic and optimistic scenarios. After estimating the costs of developing and disseminating the new varieties, the cost-effectiveness of zinc biofortification was calculated for both scenarios and compared with alternative micronutrient interventions and international reference standards.

Setting India.

Subjects Representative household survey (n = 119 554).

Results The calculated annual burden of ZnD in India is 2.8 million DALYs lost. Zinc biofortification of rice and wheat may reduce this burden by 20–51% and save 0.6–1.4 million DALYs each year, depending on the scenario. The cost for saving one DALY amounts to $US 0.73–7.31, which is very cost-effective by standards of the World Bank and the World Health Organization, and is lower than that of most other micronutrient interventions.

Conclusions Not only may zinc biofortification save lives and prevent morbidity among millions of people, it may also help accommodate the need to economise and to allocate resources more efficiently. Further research is needed to corroborate these findings.

(Received December 05 2005)

(Revised April 25 2006)


c1 *Corresponding author: Email