HarvestPlus – better crops, better nutrition

23 April, 2013 by (comments)

Published in the CIAT Annual report 2012-2013, out now.

HarvestPlus, the joint CIAT- International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) programme to develop nutritionally-improved – or “biofortified” – staple food crops in Africa, Asia and Latin America, marked its ninth year with a number of new crop releases and improved systems to get the crops into the hands of smallholder farmers.

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Achieving a year ahead of schedule its target to reach 100,000 new households with new varieties, HarvestPlus now expects 500,000 households will benefit from its portfolio of improved rice, wheat, cassava, sweet potato, maize, bean, and pearl millet by the end of its current phase in 2013.

In Rwanda – where four nutritionally-improved bean varieties have already been released, five new kinds of iron–rich climbing beans were released in 2012, targeting over 130,000 households. The beans provide up to 30 per cent of the daily recommended iron requirements of women and children, and the work complements government efforts to tackle iron-deficiency, which affects around 40 per cent of children and a large number of women in the country.

HarvestPlus now aims to reach an additional 150,000 households in Rwanda with the improved climbing beans, and a further 75,000 in DR Congo with improved climbing beans and bush beans. The iron-rich beans, which have already been released in neighbouring Uganda, are currently being tested for their suitability in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Burundi.

Other releases in 2012 included new varieties of vitamin A-rich maize in Zambia and Nigeria, and high-iron pearl millet in India. In Latin America, where the work is conducted by AgroSalud, new bean varieties with higher levels of iron were released in Nicaragua. The release schedule for 2013 includes the launch of high zinc wheat in India and high zinc rice in Bangladesh.

Ahead of the curve

Reaching the target for disseminating new varieties a year ahead of time was partly achieved by fine-tuning channels of seed distribution and testing new ones. One novel way of distributing the new vitamin A-rich cassava crops in Nigeria, for example, involved the commitment of farmers receiving the new varieties to pass stem cuttings to at least two of their neighbours.

While dissemination of improved beans in Africa continues to focus on the use of small, popular and affordable seed packs for farmers – around half-a-million packs have been sold in Rwanda alone in the last two years – HarvestPlus has also been trialling a new “payback system”. Under the system, which specifically targets some of the Rwanda’s poorest producers, around 130 tonnes of high-iron beans were sold to local agricultural offices and distributed free-of-charge to cash-strapped farmers, who then grew the beans under the supervision of extension workers and the HarvestPlus team. After harvest, the farmers paid back their initial quota in the form of grain, while consuming or selling any surplus. This initiative helped get nutritionally-improved beans into the hands of an additional 20,000 farmers very quickly.

Under a new arrangement also established in 2012, some of the grain received by HarvestPlus through the payback system will now be sold to the UN’s World Food Programme, as part of its Purchase for Progress initiative, which seeks to source seed from smallholder farmers in developing countries for use its emergency relief programmes. HarvestPlus will plough the proceeds from this arrangement back into seed multiplication for smallholders.

Following the CGIAR reform process, HarvestPlus is now a major partner in the Consortium Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), officially launched in 2012. The program brings together researchers across the agriculture, nutrition, and health spectrum to jointly develop solutions to key challenges in the developing world.


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Filed Under: Africa @en, Beans @en, Cassava @en, Crop diversity