An Australian university today announced a 2.8 million Australian dollar partnership deal with India's department of Biotechnology to help weed out iron-deficiency anaemia in India, a major cause of maternal death during childbirth.
The project will see new strains of iron-rich bananas developed and will be jointly led by Queensland University of Technology's Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities Director, according to James Dale of QUT and Rakesh Tuli of the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute.
Other partners include the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, National Research Centre for Bananas, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and Indian Institute of Horticulture Research.
"Bananas are a staple food in India, particularly in the south of the country," Dale said, adding that "Once we develop the new banana varieties they should be widely available and provide a rich and easily accessible source of iron.
"This is a significant step forward in addressing a major health issue in India's nutrition deficient population," said Renu Swarup, Managing Director, Department of Biotechnology, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) which has a mandate for the technology transfer.
The agreement was signed in India on behalf of QUT and Department of Biotechnology.
BIRAC is providing AUD 1.4 million towards the QUT component of the project and AUD 1.4 million towards the cost of the Indian component.
Dale said QUT felt privileged to enter into the agreement with India as this was the first technology transfer agreement the Indian government had entered into with an international organisation in the field of botechnology.
He said the project would build upon ongoing research QUT was undertaking to increase the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda under the auspices of the Gates Foundation.
He said the Indian banana project would involve an initial four-year development phase and it would then take another four to five years to prepare the bananas for release to Indian farmers.
"Iron deficiency causes particular problems for pregnant women and is one of the major causes of maternal death during child birth.
"Iron-deficiency is a problem for all developing countries associated with low nutrition, not just vegetarianism," Dale said.