Around £33 million of new UK aid funding will be invested in research to develop crops such as sweet potato, beans, wheat and rice that are enriched with key vitamins and minerals in a bid to help alleviate “hidden hunger” in developing countries.
The crops are also resilient to environmental challenges such as increasing drought as the world heats up.
The announcement comes as “biofortified” crops which have already been developed with the support of UK aid are on display at Chelsea Flower Show in a garden developed by female-education charity Camfed.
It is hoped the new crops, which are also developed to have high yields, will improve the health and nutrition of women, adolescent girls and children under five in almost 14 million households in the developing world by 2022.
The Department for International Development (DfID) said the UK had played a major role in developing such “super crops”, which use conventional plant breeding and agricultural science to increase the nutrients in the plant.
Biofortified crops are grown across 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Maize, cassava and sweet potato rich in vitamin A, beans, millet rich in iron and wheat and rice which are rich in zinc are among the plants grown.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said: “I’m proud that DfID is not only part of the first ever RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden to showcase climate-smart crops, but that we are also working with Camfed to train female entrepreneurs in sustainable farming methods to support their communities in Zimbabwe.
“It is often the poorest people who are the most affected by increasingly erratic weather and rising temperatures, which is why UK aid is supporting the development of the latest technology and science to help crops withstand drought and floods. I hope the thousands of visitors to the show enjoy the garden and are inspired to take their own steps to help tackle climate change and protect our environment for future generations around the world.”
DfID chief scientist Charlotte Watts said: “By harnessing climate and nutrition-smart technologies like biofortified crops, we can improve the livelihoods of thousands of women and girls. These crops are not just more resilient to droughts and diseases but provide a sustainable source of much needed nutrients to rural communities.
“These, in combination with the transformative impact of education, are empowering women to run agricultural businesses and lift themselves and their households out of poverty.”
Additional reporting by Press Association