In her guest blog for IZiNCG, Dr Heather Ohly introduces an exciting new research project led by the University of Central Lancashire

Biofortificationis a process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through conventional plant breeding techniques and addition of nutrient-rich fertilisers. An increasing body of evidence suggests that it may be a cost-effective and sustainable approach to reduce micronutrient deficiencies (1).

Tightly controlled human feeding studies (efficacy trials) have demonstrated that consumption of biofortified crops can lead to increased micronutrient status (2). However, a limited number of effectiveness studies have demonstrated similar improvements under ‘real world’ conditions.

The most recent national nutrition survey in Pakistan indicated that over 40% of women were zinc deficient and 20% had iron deficiency anaemia (3). It was identified as a priority country for investment by HarvestPlus and a new variety of biofortified wheat (Zincol-2016) was released in 2016. It contains significantly higher concentrations of zinc and iron, compared to standard varieties which have been released in South Asia.

We recently completed a foundation study (known as BiZiFED) to investigate the impact of biofortification as a strategy to alleviate zinc deficiency in Pakistan (4). The findings will be available soon via our website.

Bagging the wheat grain for our foundation study RCT

Bagging the wheat grain for our foundation study RCT

BIZIFED2is a much larger study led by Professor Nicola Lowe from the University of Central Lancashire, in collaboration with University of Nottingham, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Kings College London, Khyber Medical University, British Geological Survey and the Abaseen Foundation.

We received £1.9 million from UK Research and Innovation, through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). This funding is for two years from 1stApril 2019.

BIZIFED2 is the first large-scale investigation into the potential of biofortified wheat to reduce zinc and iron deficiencies among adolescent girls and children in Pakistan. Adolescence is a critical time in the life-course to influence maternal and neonatal outcomes, and the health of future generations.

The project will be conducted in a low resource community on the outskirts of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK). The diet is vegetable based and wheat is the staple food crop. Wheat flour is purchased locally and used for making chapatti and roti, which are consumed with every meal.

Study community in KPK showing brick kiln workers

Study community in KPK showing brick kiln workers

The programme of work includes three Work Packages:

WP1 – A trial effectiveness study of the potential of biofortified wheat (Zincol-2016) to improve zinc and iron status among adolescent girls and children living in a low resource community in Pakistan.

WP2 – A spatial modelling study to integrate soil and crop data, together with environmental covariates, to enable prediction and mapping of the variation in wheat grain zinc concentration due to soil properties, farmer management and wheat variety.

WP3 – A mixed methods study to understand the socio-cultural factors and market systems that affect the sustainable uptake of biofortified wheat in Pakistan.


For more information please contact Dr Heather Ohly, Research Fellow in Global Nutrition, University of Central Lancashire by email: or follow our website.

Research team meeting in Islamabad in 2018

Research team meeting in Islamabad in 2018


1.    Lockyer S, White A and Buttriss JL. Biofortified crops for tackling micronutrient deficiencies – what impact are these having in developing countries and could they be of relevance within Europe? Nutrition Bulletin 2018; 43: 319-357. doi:10.1111/nbu.12347

2.     Saltzman A, Birol E, Oparinde A, Andersson MS, Asare-Marfo Det al. Availability, production, and consumption of crops biofortified by plant breeding: current evidence and future potential. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences2017; 1390: 104-114. doi:10.1111/nyas.13314

3.     Bhutta Z, Soofi S, Zaidi S, Habib A, Hussain M. Pakistan National Nutrition Survey, 2011:

4.     Ohly H, Broadley MR, Joy EJ, Khan MJ, McArdle H et al. The BiZiFED project: Biofortified zinc flour to eliminate deficiency in Pakistan. Nutrition Bulletin 2019; 44: 60-64. doi:10.1111/nbu.12362