2015: A Productive Year for Biofortified Crops

Biofortified crops enjoyed a very productive 2015. At the close of the year, nearly 3 million farming households in target countries in Africa and Asia were growing and eating these nutritious staple food crops. Read more about how farmers and their families are reaping the benefits.

 

Connecting Farmers to Markets: A New Report from World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) has just released a new report: The P4P story – Connecting farmers to markets.

Purchase for Progress (P4P) is a five year pilot project of the WFP that has transformed the lives of smallholder farmers in 20 developing countries.

According to the report, P4P links WFP’s demand for staple food commodities, such as cereals and pulses, with the technical expertise of a wide range of partners. This collaboration provides smallholders with the skills and knowledge to improve their agricultural production, and an incentive to do so, as they have an assured market in which to sell their surplus crops. The successes of farmers, governments and other WFP partners have enjoyed by working together is highlighted.

The report also notes HarvestPlus’ role in increasing the availability of biofortified crops to small holder farmers who are most challenged by malnutrition in countries such as Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. In these countries, P4P affiliated smallholder farmers started to grow iron beans, vitamin A sweet potato, and vitamin A maize respectively.

 “Smallholders are participating in seed multiplication activities, growing the biofortified crops and selling part of their produce back to HarvestPlus for redistribution, while retaining a portion of the household consumption.”

The WFP has also released a corresponding technical report Purchase for Progress (P4P) – Reflections on the pilot.

Ken Davies, P4P Global Coordinator, spoke about WFP’s collaboration with HarvestPlus while at the 2nd Global Conference on Biofortification: “Getting Nutritious Foods to People” in Kigali, Rwanda

Rwandan Music Stars Unite to Promote Iron Beans

During the Second Global Conference on Biofortification in Kigali, Rwanda, delegates saw firsthand iron beans growing in the field.  Released by the Rwandan Government in 2011, these nutritious varieties of Rwanda’s favorite staple food are currently being planted by more than 700,000 farmers across the country. Now, a campaign utilizing the power of popular music expects to get even more Rwandans planting and eating iron beans. Five of the country’s top musicians joined hands to release a catchy music video featuring iron beans to promote better nutrition and health. Click here to learn more about the campaign.

Music video with Kiswahili subtitles: http://bit.ly/EatHealthyBeansSwahili  and www.swahiliwood.com/maharagwe

Policymakers to Meet in Kigali on Getting Nutritious Foods to People

On March 31, more than 275 high-level stakeholders from government, business and civil society will converge in Kigali, Rwanda, for a three-day consultation on ‘Getting Nutritious Foods to People.’

Nearly one in three people globally suffers from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, zinc and iron in the diet. This condition known as hidden hunger increases the risk of stunting, anemia, blindness, infectious diseases, and even death. Women and children are especially vulnerable.

HarvestPlus, a global program to improve nutrition and public health, has worked with partners to develop new varieties of nutritious food crops that provide more vitamin A, zinc, or iron. These crops already being grown by more than a million farmers have been conventionally bred. They include cassava, maize and orange sweet potato for vitamin A; beans and pearl millet for iron; and rice and wheat for zinc.

Studies have shown that these new varieties do provide nutritional benefits to consumers. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface…we want to increase access to these nutritious crops as quickly as possible. Now is the time to bring partners together to figure out how we do this together,” says Howarth Bouis, the Director of HarvestPlus.

The conference is being hosted by the Government of Rwanda. More than 500,000 Rwandan farmers have already planted new varieties of beans that are rich in iron. These new iron beans also yield many more tons per hectare than the local varieties, and the surplus can be shared or sold.

Keynote speakers include M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned father of India’s Green Revolution; Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;  and, Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013. Adesina serves on the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, a newly formed expert group that advises on nutrition-enhancing agricultural and food policies and investments. The panel will convene a special session to explore how biofortification could help decision makers in developing nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food policies.

“The evidence is promising, and we now need to explore the potential for biofortification to enhance agriculture and food policies for nutrition,” says Jeff Waage, Technical Advisor to the Global Panel and Director of the London International Development Centre.

The invitation-only consultation will be livestreamed and moderated by Jeff Koinange, an award-winning Kenyan journalist and past Chief Anchor for Africa for Arise Television and CNN Senior Africa Correspondent.

For more information, please visit the conference website. Learn more about HarvestPlus. Learn more about the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

Iron Beans in East Africa

Rwanda will host the Second Global Conference on Biofortification from March 31 to April 2, 2014.  Farmers in the country have been growing iron beans since 2012, when five varieties were released. To date more than 270,000 Rwandan farming households – or 15 percent of rural farmers in the country – are growing and eating this nutritious crop. Iron bean varieites have also been released in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where 175,000 households are already planting them. In Uganda, where vitamin A orange sweet potato is already widely grown, iron beans have also been introduced.

These countries are all located in sub-Saharan Africa, where iron deficiency is widespread. In the DRC, for example, three-quarters of all children under five lack dietary iron. This means they face increased risk of lowered resistance to disease and impaired learning capacity. Nearly one in three Rwandan children under five is similarly afflicted. Severe anemia, often caused by iron deficiency, increases the risk of women dying in childbirth.

Beans are widely grown and consumed in all three countries.  The iron bean varieties released by HarvestPlus and partners can provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs -  14 percent more than the commonly grown bean varieties. Fully biofortified beans are ultimately expected to provide up to 60 percent of daily iron needs.  All released iron bean varieties are conventionally bred. Louis Butare, from the Rwanda Agriculture Board, explains the process in this short video:

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More on Iron Beans:

Neil Palmer, On the Trail of DR Congo’s Purple Gorillas
The Sunday Times, ‘Wonder’ Bean Variety Excites Farmers

What is Biofortification?

Getting critical micronutrients (the vitamins and minerals that people need for good health) to the two billion people who lack them has never been more feasible – or tasty – than it is now.

>> Read more

Will Biofortification Work?

As a new strategy in the global campaign to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, breeding nutritious staple food crops (biofortification) and getting them to millions of people worldwide is no longer just an idea; some half a million people are already planting or eating such crops, be it iron beans, vitamin A orange sweet potato, maize or cassava in Africa, or iron pearl millet in India.

Biofortification seeks to provide, through the foods that people eat regularly, the vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that are essential to a healthy life. Without these micronutrients, people are less likely to reach their full potential. Micronutrient deficiencies can impair the mental and physical development of infant children and adolescents, resulting in lower IQ, stunting, and even blindness. They also reduce the productivity of adult men and women due to increased risk of illness and reduced work capacity. This condition, also known as hidden hunger, affects one in three people globally.

Howarth Bouis is the director of HarvestPlus, a global program to develop and disseminate biofortified crops. In this short video, Bouis answers three questions that need to be asked--and answered-- if biofortification is to be an effective strategy to improve nutrition and public health: