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The challenge

Malnutrition affects one in three people on the planet.  Of these, 159 million children under the age of five are estimated to be stunted. Two billion people are deficient in one or more micronutrients – the essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts by the body for proper growth and development, such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and calcium.

A lack of available foods to constitute diversified diets is a crucial factor, especially in the developing world, where diets often consist of starchy staples with not enough nutrient-rich sources of food, such as animal source foods, fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses. Globally the reduction of agricultural biodiversity in food systems is of increasing concern. From the 391,000 known plant species, 5,538 are known to have been used as human food. Today just three crop species – rice, wheat and maize – provide more than 50% of the world's calories from plants.

Bioversity International's research approach

Bioversity International takes a 'whole diet' approach to study the diversity of all accessible local food sources for vulnerable populations. including 'forgotten' traditional foods, wild foods and foods available at the local market.

Working closely with targeted communities, we build understanding of why nutrition is important and how to improve nutrition in the diet using available foods, through a mix of activities including cooking demonstrations, food fairs and by creating seasonal food availability calendars.


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Bioversity International is working with partners to assess local food biodiversity and identify opportunities to use it to improve diet quality in Son La Province, Vietnam, where malnutrition rates are high and a lack of dietary diversity thought to be a crucial factor. This research is being carried out through the CGIAR Research Programs on Humidtropics and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

The focus of the research is women of child-bearing age and children between 12-23 months – an age group part of the critical 1000 day window for child development and the stage where they are able to consume a more diverse diet. 

Read the blogs:
Diverse foods make a difference to nutrition in Northwest Vietnam
Assessing the nutrition potential of diverse local foods in Vietnam
Bringing together best methods to assess food quality and dietary intake in Vietnam 
Improving dietary quality and diversity through systems innovation 
Putting nutrition data to work in the community
Joining the diversity club – how village health workers in Vietnam are putting nutrition back on the menu

Watch the video (In Vietnamese)


The Barotse floodplain in Western Zambia is one of Africa's largest wetlands, rich in biodiversity but high in poverty. Local diets are heavily reliant on staple foods with little dietary diversification of nutrient-rich food groups such as eggs, dairy, fruits and pulses.

Bioversity international and partners are exploring how biodiversity in the landscape can be better used to improve diets, incomes and ecosystem services. This work is being carried out through the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems, and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Read the blogs:
Healthy diets from sustainable food systems all year round – a case study captured on film in Zambia
New digital map of Barotse speaks both the language of scientists and farmers
Stimulating demand for nutritious diverse foods in the Barotse Floodplain, Zambia
Farming systems and how they relate to local diets in the Barotse
A gender perspective on landscapes in the Zambian flood plain

Watch the videos:
Cooking together in Zambia 
Putting diversity on the plate 


Bioversity International is working with partners in western Kenya to empower communities to better use agricultural biodiversity all year round to improve nutrition.

We are working in Vihiga County, through our partnership with the CGIAR Research Programs on Humidtropics and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, focusing on improving the diets of women and small children using diverse, local foods.

We are also working in Busia County, through our Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Initiative. Activities include studying the effectiveness of home gardens, school gardens, school feeding programmes, food fairs and value addition as ways to promote traditional, nutrient-dense foods.

Prior to this we carried out a 10-year project to promote diverse species of African Leafy Vegetables in Kenya for improved nutrition and livelihoods.

Read the blogs:
How communities in Kenya are putting nutritious diversity back on the plate
Community action for improved nutrition gathers momentum in Kenya 
Malezi Bora – Food Biodiversity for Improved Nutrition in Kenya 
Why community action to improve nutrition in Kenya includes a side order of termites
Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition in Busia County, Kenya
The SUN shines brightly on Kenya's efforts to link nutrition and agriculture

Watch the video:
African Leafy Vegetables

Useful links:

See photographs on Flickr from our work in VietnamZambia and Kenya

Dietary species richness as a measure of food biodiversity and nutritional quality of diets

Dietary species richness as a measure of food biodiversity and nutritional quality of diets introduces a new metric that can help researchers, practitioners and policymakers better understand the relationship between food biodiversity and diet quality, to identify where food systems can be improved.

Guidelines on assessing biodiverse foods in dietary surveys

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with Bioversity International, as one of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health's Managing Partners, has jointly produced new scientific guidelines guidelines for collecting information on food biodiversity through dietary surveys.

Guidelines on Assessing Biodiverse Foods in Dietary Intake Surveys, will assist researchers and practitioners to generate more reliable data and implement best practices related to assessing food biodiversity.

Bioversity International Initiative

This work is carried out through the Bioversity International Initiative - Healthy diets from sustainable food systems

It also contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture: Target 2:1: By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.

CGIAR Partnership

This area of work contributes to the following CGIAR Research Program: