Health benefits of biofortification - an ex-ante analysis of iron-rich rice and wheat in India
Hunger is acknowledged to impose a heavy burden on humankind with severe negative health consequences. Micronutrient malnutrition, or "hidden hunger", is an even more widespread problem, to which economic development and income growth alone are not expected to provide a solution any time soon. Existing micronutrient interventions like pharmaceutical supplementation or industrial fortification have their limitations and can be complemented by a new approach: breeding food crops for higher micronutrient densities. Knowledge about the cost-effectiveness of this new tool, also termed biofortification, is scarce. In this study, a framework for economic impact analysis is developed, which is then used for evaluation of iron-rich rice and wheat in India. Health benefits are measured and quantified using "disability-adjusted life years" (DALYs). The impact of biofortification is based on a representative data set of food consumption at the household level. Juxtaposing imputed health benefits with research and development costs proves the cost-effectiveness of the intervention; under pessimistic assumptions saving one healthy life year through biofortification only costs US$ 1.90, a cost which even declines to 36 Cents under optimistic assumptions. Extending the study to include a cost-benefit analysis shows that iron biofortification, with an internal rate of return of 74-152%, can also be a worthwhile public investment.
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