Global Agriculture

Responding to Crisis and Building Resilience With Biofortified Crops in 2020

11 December 2020, Zimbabwe: The year 2020 brought enormous challenges affecting societies, economies, and people everywhere.  For HarvestPlus, the top priority amid COVID-19 disruptions was to consistently innovate in order to minimize risks to food supply chains and to protect access to nutritious crops.

HarvestPlus and partners adopted new practices to ensure that smallholder farming families can still access and plant biofortified seed, receive training and technical support, and stay connected to crop markets. We focused on to making sure that vulnerable rural communities continue to receive health, immunity, and livelihood benefits from nutrient-rich crops.

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An effective response to COVID-19 across continents

In Nigeria, HarvestPlus negotiated a 10 percent price discount with seed companies for Vitamin A maize seed and 20 percent discount for Vitamin A cassava stems. By linking agro-dealers in Niger, Kaduna, Ogun, Oyo, Enugu, and Imo States to seed companies that were offering the discount, farmers can access the seed at a much lower cost. This website story highlights our recent work in Nigeria.

Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, together with HarvestPlus and Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, announced that more than 14 tons of biofortified maize, bean, and rice seed will be distributed free of charge to at least 7,000 rural farming families in various parts of the country. This website story highlights our work in Colombia to reach vulnerable farming families.

The Ugandan government has selected OSP as one of the food security crops to distribute to vulnerable households. HarvestPlus supported the inspection of OSP vine multiplication in preparation for the distribution activity. HarvestPlus developed video training clips on basic agronomy and nutrition and shared them with local NGOs to show to farmers, in areas where extension workers are not able to conduct in-person training. This short video highlights our work in Uganda to address food insecurity during COVID 19. 

In Zambia, the HarvestPlus team helped crop processors arrange special transport of harvest from farms and pay farmers via mobile money systems.  

IN Bangladesh, HarvestPlus advocated for the government to implement a rice subsidy of 10 baht (about USD .12) per kilo. We also contributed to donations of food packs with zinc rice and PPE kits to 680,000 at-rick households. In addition, HarvestPlus continues to engage the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food about integrating milled zinc rice in the government’s food procurement and distribution programs. This website story and short video highlight our work in Bangladesh to address rising food insecurity during COVID 19. 

Empowering more farming families through effective partnerships

The ENRICH project is a prime example of how HarvestPlus and World Vision Canada have been able to create synergies in the field to generate more impact for vulnerable smallholder farming families, targeting more than two million people. Our story covers examples from Bangladesh, Kenya, and Tanzania of how this partnership has impacted lives and outcomes for vulnerable communities and given them access to not only nutritious crops, but a source of income and a new livelihood opportunities. 

HarvestPlus joined forces with Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) in a new partnership to expand the reach of nutritious zinc-biofortified wheat in Pakistan by leveraging mobile communications to engage progressive and smallholder farmers. Working with PAD, HarvestPlus has designed a project to target Pakistani farmers in specific areas where seeds will be available and readily accessible. 

HarvestPlus worked closely with CIMMYT and the Clinton Development Initiative on an exciting partnership for deploying climate-resilient improved maize varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa for the benefit of smallholder farmers. Ongoing farm trials in Malawi as well as Tanzania, and the expansion of these trials to Rwanda in 2021, will help build a strong platform in catalyzing adoption of improved maize varieties.

Strengthening the capacity of biofortified food businesses

Women-owned enterprises are a key link for food and nutrition value chains. HarvestPlus is proud to be working with enterprising women around the world who have created businesses from the ground up, often with very limited resources initially. They chose to invest in better nutrition for their families and their communities and take the mission forward by producing and selling nourishing biofortified products. We have profiled some of these strong women who are making access to nutrition a priority.

As these stories illustrate, many women entrepreneurs support local economies through trade and job creation, and deliver improved nutritional outcomes for communities. If we are to nourish our communities, it is critical to support businesses initiated and led by women. HarvestPlus will continue to empower them, support them, and cheer them on. Here’s the accompanying digital feature.

Zimbabwe’s Sky Brands, a youth-led biofortified food start up, secures financing for rapid scale up. This financing support has not only helped the company, but has helped improve the lives of several hundred smallholder farmers, many of them women, who have benefited from selling their biofortified crops to Sky Brands. The company contracted many more smallholder farmers as a result, helping improve their livelihoods. 

Catalyzing new country commitments 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a strong endorsement to staple crop biofortification as a sustainable and cost-effective solution to alleviate malnutrition.  He also “dedicated to the nation” 17 recently-developed biofortified seed varieties of local and traditional crops, including wheat and paddy rice, that are being made available to Indian farmers. He  said this is an important step in strengthening the government’s campaign to improve nutrition. Read more here.

The Government of Bihar, India’s third most populous state, made a major commitment to scale up production and consumption of zinc-biofortified wheat to help address a serious malnutrition problem and reduce the highest rate of stunting in the country. 

Also in Bihar State, the Rural Development Council (RDC) and the Government of Bihar partnered with HarvestPlus to make Kukribigah a model “nutritional village,” where the 475 rural households will only cultivate biofortified crops using organic methods. HarvestPlus will provide the village’s farmers with sufficient zinc wheat seed for up to 100 hectares of planting, organize demonstration workshops and market linkages, and provide subject matter experts to help train the farmers. The farmers will develop relevant skillsets and learn modern farming methods while learning to make farming more sustainable. Read more here.

In a decisive step toward making Tanzania’s food systems more nutritious and inclusive, the government of Tanzania formally issued guidelines for biofortification activity across seed and food value chains. The guidelines will provide an essential point of reference for value chain participants, helping to spur faster integration and scale up of biofortified seeds, grains, and foods. Read the full story here.

Similarly, at the launch of Guatemala’s Economic Recovery Plan in response to COVID-19, the Minister of Livestock and Food, José Ángel López, announced that biofortified crops will be part of the National System of Strategic Food Reserves that will be used in the Plan to increase resilience to future crises. The Ministry intends to promote seeds of biofortified crop varieties to help address food insecurity and malnutrition. 

Engaging global and regional leaders

The African Union Commission released a “Roadmap for Upscaling Biofortification” to guide country-level initiatives by AU member states.

HarvestPlus and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) launched a joint biofortification brief encouraging adoption and scaling up in national policies and programs.

Several United Nations agencies jointly recommended including biofortification as a food-based element in strategies to reduce the incidence of childhood wasting. In the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting (GAP), the UN agencies highlight priority actions on the prevention and treatment of this serious condition. Read more here.

Extending the reach of biofortified crops

HarvestPlus released an updated global map of biofortified staple crops showcasing that 63 countries have released or are testing biofortified varieties, demonstrating the global momentum to promote these nutritious staple crops to more farmers and consumers. 

CGIAR integrated high-zinc targets in its core wheat breeding program – an advance in “mainstreaming” biofortification in global crop development. 

Expanding the Evidence Base

In a study with potential significance for global nutrition strategies, iron-deficient women in Rwanda who consumed high-iron “biofortified” beans experienced not only improved iron status but also improved ability to conduct everyday physical tasks. Read the story here.

meta-analysis showed zinc supplements can reduce risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, suggesting zinc-enriched crops may do the same. New research is planned. 

In Memoriam: Robin Graham- a biofortification pioneer

Howdy Bouis remembered his friend and colleague, Robin David Graham, in this tribute. Bouis, Graham, and Ross Welch laid the groundwork for the work of HarvestPlus and others active in scaling up biofortification.

We look forward to continuing to work with our hundreds of partners around the world to rapidly scale up biofortification to reach vulnerable communities with good health and nutrition.