Innovation is the Catalyst for Solving Big Issues

Big problems often call for innovative ideas.  This is especially true when your task is to fight malnutrition.  Howarth Bouis, an economist at the International Food Policy Research Institute, was determined to help impoverished people add more nutrition to their diet.

In many places in Africa and South Asia, people suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies.  Vitamin A deficiencies cause blindness in over 500,000 children under the age of five, iron deficiencies lead to fatigue and anemia in almost 65% of children, and the lack of zinc kills over 800,000 per year.

Howarth Bouis proposed a novel idea of enriching staple crops with important nutrients by utilizing time-tested plant breeding techniques.  His idea was initially met with a lukewarm response because many agencies were looking for higher tech ways of solving the problem.  But Bouis persisted.

In 2003, he secured enough funding to implement cross breeding studies across African and South Asia, calling his project HarvestPlus.  For example, as reported in the current issue of Discover magazine, Bouis and his colleagues took pollen from cassava, a plant naturally high in Vitamin A, and put it into flowers of the African variety.  After a dozen or so iterations, they produced an ideal cassava plant for Africa, rich in Vitamin A.

In 2007, Bouis and his HarvestPlus project introduced their first nutritionally enhanced crops to farmers in Mozambique and Uganda.  Since then the efforts of HarvestPlus have improved the nutritional intake of millions of people in Africa and South Asia.

Most of us will never tackle an issue quite as daunting as world hunger, but we still face challenging situations that require innovation and persistence.  Consider a personal or professional obstacle that you are trying to overcome.  Now follow the lead of Howarth Bouis and brainstorm some innovative angles you have not yet tried.

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