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MillNETi: Millets and Nutritional Enhancement Traits for Iron bioavailability, a UKRI GCRF programme on biofortified millets in Ethiopia and The Gambia.

About the programme

MillNETi is funded by a UKRI GCRF award: 'Food & nutrition research for health in the developing world: bioavailability & nutrient content'. It is a two-year programme that will run from April 2019 to April 2021.

Programme Aims

The aim of the project is to improve iron nutrition status of people living in Ethiopia and The Gambia by introducing biofortified millets. The team will also test and validate different meal preparation methods to optimise the availability of iron in food prepared from these biofortified millets.

Institutions involved

MillNETi brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Cambridge (Departments of Plant Sciences, Development Studies, MRC Bone Health group, Pathology, the Global Food Security IRC, the Cambridge Global Challenges SRI and the Cambridge-Africa initiative), the Centre for Global Equality, NIAB, the NIAB Innovation FarmRothamsted Research, MRC The Gambia, Bahir Dar University (Ethiopia) and ICRISAT (India, Ethiopia, Malawi), working with partner institutions HarvestPlus, King's College London and JeCCDO.



Millets are easy to grow, resilient to climate change and naturally rich in micronutrients. Traditionally, millets are consumed in Ethiopia and The Gambia, however preferences have shifted towards polished rice and other less nutritious foods.

Iron deficiency and Anaemia

Iron deficiency is very common in developing countries, where it often causes iron deficiency anaemia (IDA). Symptoms include fatigue, reduction of growth and development in children and more serious issues such as poor pregnancy outcomes, including maternal death. 

Addressing iron deficiency

There are existing intervention programmes that aim to address iron deficiency in Ethiopia and The Gambia. These programmes include the introduction of fortified foods that are artificially enriched in micronutrients, such as cooking oil and wheat flour that contain added iron and zinc.

The MillNETi approach

MillNETi takes a different approach by introducing biofortified millet varieties that are bred to have naturally higher levels of iron and zinc. These varieties can be grown by local farmers and processed to flour and grains for food preparation (Flagship Project 1: GROWTH).

Iron (and zinc) in grains is usually attached to the natural compound phytate, forming a strong complex bond, which makes it difficult to digest. By activating the natural phytase enzyme, iron can be released so it can be taken up in the bloodstream after ingestion. Phytase can be activated by fermentation, soaking and some other traditional cooking methods.

To optimise the availability of the natural iron, the teams in Ethiopia and The Gambia will test and validate different meal preparations based on traditional recipes, to identify the best cooking methods . Selected meals will be validated in vitro using a cell system model and in human nutrition trials (Flagship Project 2: BIOAVAILABILITY and Flagship Project 3: PROCESSING)).

A fourth Flagship Project will look at future extension of the programme to other countries in the Global South (Flagship Project 4: EXTENSION). The teams will work with local communities to identify the best routes for distribution of the new millet varieties and will be using community training to increase knowledge on meal preparation methods that optimise availability of the nutrients.



Professor Howard Griffiths (Lead PI)

University of Cambridge Plant Sciences

Joanna Wolstenholme (Programme Manager)

Department of Plant Sciences

Jonathan Doole (administration)

Department of Plant Sciences/TIGR2ESS

Dr Sara Serradas Duarte (workshops and outreach)

Cambridge Global Challenges SRI

Mrs Francesca Re Manning (GFS Programme Manager) (workshops and outreach)

Cambridge Global Food Security IRC

Flagship Project 1: GROWTH

Dr Alison Bentley (FP1 Lead)

National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB)

Dr Tilahun Amede  (FP1 co-lead)

ICRISAT Ethiopia

Dr Anthony Whitbread


Dr Rajeev Gupta


Dr Prakash Rangashetty


Dr Binu Cherian


Professor Peter Shewry

Rothamsted Research

Dr Stéphanie Swarbreck

National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and University of Cambridge Plant Sciences

Flagship Project 2: BIOAVAILABILITY 

Dr Carla Cerami (FP2 Lead )

MRC Unit The Gambia

Dr Mohamad Farshard

King's College London

Dr Wanjiku Gichohi (also FP3 and FP4)


Amit Bhasin (also FP3 and 4)


Flagship Project 3: PROCESSING

Dr Shailaja Fennell (FP3 Lead) (also FP4)

University of Cambridge Development Studies

Dr Hirut Asaye (FP3 co-lead) (and FP2)

Bahir Dar University

Dr Richard Sidebottom

University of Cambridge Development Studies

Dr Sarah Dalzell (also FP4)

MRC Nutrition and Bone Health Research Group

Dr Lydia Smith

NIAB Innovation Farm

Flagship Project 4: EXTENSION

Dr Lara Allen (FP4 Lead)

Centre for Global Equality


Mulugeta Gebru


Other programmes under this scheme

Child Health, Agriculture and Integrated Nutrition (CHAIN): a randomized trial to close the nutrient gap in rural Zimbabwe Andrew Prendergast Queen Mary University of London
Enhancing cobalamin (vitamin B12) bioavailability in culturally appropriate foods in India Martin Warren University of Kent
Biofortification with Zinc and Iron for Eliminating Deficiency in Pakistan (BiZIFED2) Nicola Lowe University of Central Lancashire
Evaluating iron and zinc bioavailability from biofortified potatoes to reduce malnutrition in the Andean highlands Richard Mithen Quadram Institute Bioscience

Global food security is a major research priority for UK and international science.

Cambridge Global Food Security is a virtual centre at the University of Cambridge. We promote an interdisciplinary approach to addressing the challenge of ensuring all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life. 

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