28 June 2021, Nigeria: Nigeria’s National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development (NCARD) has approved mainstreaming staple crop biofortification in all aspects of agricultural interventions in Nigeria, representing a major stride towards improving nutrition for millions of Nigerians who suffer from micronutrient deficiency.
The NCARD is tasked with the promotion of agribusiness in Nigeria and providing leadership and capacity building to all stakeholders in agricultural systems. NCARD also guides the adoption of new agricultural policies and periodically provides policy advice on implementation of existing agricultural programs. The NCARD is chaired by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and its members are the state commissioners of agriculture.
One notable result of the NCARD decision will be to make the promotion and support of biofortified crop cultivation a top priority for the country’s agricultural extension agents as they work with farming families to promote more nutrition-smart practices.
Vitamin A crops grown widely
HarvestPlus and its partners in Nigeria currently develop and promote vitamin A cassava, maize, and orange sweet potato. Other biofortified crops, such as iron pearl millet and zinc maize, are in the testing phase. At the end of 2020, nearly 960,000 smallholder farming families in Nigeria were growing vitamin A cassava and nearly 740,000 were growing vitamin A maize (figures for vitamin A orange sweet potato were not available).
These crops help address high rates of micronutrient deficiency, or “hidden hunger,” particularly among rural and low-resource populations. According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018, more than half of Nigerian children under age five are at risk of iron and vitamin A deficiencies, and approximately 40 percent of women of reproductive age are iron deficient. Furthermore, 37 percent of children in Nigeria are stunted, which can be caused by deficiencies of zinc, iron and vitamin A. Stunting rates are higher among children in rural areas (46 percent), than urban (27 percent), while rates among children in the North West are highest in the country (60 percent). These challenges arise as a result of a combination of poor awareness of dietary requirements, feeding practices, and high levels of poverty.
Leadership by Ogun State
Dr. Adeola Odedina, Commissioner for Agriculture of Nigeria’s Ogun State and a longstanding partner of HarvestPlus, had submitted the proposal to NCARD to approve mainstreaming biofortification. Approval was given at the 44th Regular Meeting of the Council on June 17, 2021. The meeting was hosted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja, with the theme, “Nigeria’s Agriculture and Food Security in the face of COVID-19, Floods, and Insecurity.”
In his remarks at the meeting, Dr. Odedina reiterated the commitment of his state government to address food and nutrition security. He said Ogun state is actively engaged in providing seeds of improved and nutritious varieties to farmers while working with relevant agencies and partners to facilitate technical and financial assistance to smallholder farmers.
Apart from providing farming assistance to the small farmer, the Ogun State Government is also collaborating with food processing industries and building enhanced supply chain networks for raw material. Actions such as these are expected to create new markets as well as build sustainable value chains for the biofortified crop varieties in Ogun.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended lives, food systems, societies, and economies worldwide. For smallholder farming families, many of whom live from harvest to harvest, the threats to their food and nutrition security, health, and livelihoods were immediate and often dire. Thus, in the face of recent challenges, HarvestPlus’ teams have worked closely with the Nigerian government and other partners to rapidly introduce relevant policy frameworks and adopt new practices to reach more smallholder farming families in Nigeria.
Policy action such as the approval of mainstreaming biofortification into all aspects of agricultural interventions in Nigeria will ensure farming families to: access and plant biofortified seed; receive training and technical support, and stay connected to crop markets even during the pandemic.