Field of millet

Calcium from millet?

Fortifying crops provides struggling communities around the world with the nutrients they need

Australian plant physiologist and biochemist Professor James Stangoulis is working on the biofortification of crops to make staple foods in the developing world more nutritious.

“While the focus is on nutrition for human consumption, it also has the important benefit of helping to deliver higher yields on nutrient-poor soils,” says Professor Stangoulis from Flinders University.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around two billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient malnutrition, and UNICEF says most of the world’s children don’t eat enough vitamins and minerals.

Professor Stangoulis is a long-time partner of HarvestPlus, an NGO established to develop biofortified crops. and funded by the European Commission.

His previous work has addressed zinc and iron deficiencies, and he is now focussing on calcium.

Calcium is vital for bones and teeth and helps regulate muscle, nerve and hormone function. In general, 50–70 per cent of dietary calcium comes from animal products, which is a problem for areas where dairy intake is low and grains are a dietary staple.

Millet is promising as a target crop, he says, because it can be drought tolerant.

“Finger millet, a crop with a higher grain-calcium concentration, is a great candidate for learning about mechanisms that contribute to calcium accumulation in grain crops.”