Filling the Food Basket Farming Families Worldwide Are Increasingly Growing More Than One Biofortified Crop

The global nutrition community, increasingly focused on holistic approaches to improving diets, is promoting dietary diversification and ensuring that every element of the diet is as nutritious as possible. To support these objectives, HarvestPlus and its partners are leveraging opportunities to introduce more than one type of biofortified crop to a given smallholder farming community, especially when such a “food basket” approach is warranted for nutritional or socio-cultural reasons.

The main objective of introducing multiple biofortified crops to farming households is to provide dietary complementarity and give the farmers a choice based on the staple food preferences in their area. It enables households to acquire multiple essential micronutrients from one food basket.

HarvestPlus is working with several partners in Africa and Latin America to make multiple biofortified crops available to the same smallholder farming families. Below are some examples so far from implementing this approach:

Zimbabwe: Vitamin A Maize and Iron Beans

John and Sophia Chikumbu of ward 7 in Mutasa district were among the first people in the district to start growing biofortified crops—vitamin A maize followed by high iron beans—after the Livelihood and Food Security Program (LFSP) taught them about the crops’ nutritional benefits.

The Chikumbus are one of an estimated 300,000 households in the 12 LFSP operating districts who now grow and consume biofortified crops. “As a farming family, we are happy because we are now growing healthy food crops such as orange maize and high iron beans for ourselves,” said Sophia.

“We are now renowned orange maize farmers in this area. I now realize that there are more nutritious staples that we can grow to complement our consumption of maize and that’s why we have dedicated some land to iron bean production,” said John.

Guatemala: Zinc Maize and Iron Beans

Julio Cesar Portillo is a proud grower of biofortified beans and maize in Jutiapa, in eastern Guatemala. At age 55, he works every day on his farm with the support of his nephews and nieces, taking care of the iron bean seed lots and the country's recently-introduced biofortified maize hybrid with zinc.

Julio is one of the farmers who has been most involved with growing biofortified crops, and for him it is very important to plant both beans and maize because it allows him to generate employment. In any busy season, he is able to hire up to 15 people from his community. In addition, these crops have allowed his six nephews to generate income for their studies, since each one has been assigned a percentage of land to cultivate and produce.

"For me, the price of biofortified crops is much higher than non-biofortified crops. If I sell traditional maize seed I get paid 1 quetzal (about 13 USD) per kilogram. I get paid 400 quetzals (about 52 USD) for biofortified crops. It gives me a lot of margin."

Uganda: Iron Beans and Vitamin A Orange Sweet Potato

Justine Baligonzaki is a 40-year-old mother of seven children from Kyabigambire sub-county in Hoima district. She was introduced to growing vitamin A OSP and iron beans in July 2018 by Hoima Caritas Development Organization (HOCADEO), a HarvestPlus implementing partner in Hoima district. Justine benefitted from the trainings in agronomy for OSP and iron beans as well as training in nutrition.

Before she adopted OSP and iron beans, Justine’s children were often sick from diseases like diarrhea and they even had skin rashes. “After feeding my children regularly with OSP and iron beans, I started noticing changes in their health. They were not falling sick like they used to, and even the rashes had disappeared”, says Justine.

“I’m able to buy small household necessities with this weekly money. I can now also say I have a weekly income,” Justine said with a smile. “I have tried to share the OSP vines and iron beans with my neighbors and other family members that didn’t get these crops so that everyone in my village can benefit,” she added.

Colombia: Zinc Maize and Iron Beans

In the village of La Meseta, in the rural town of Jamundí in western Colombia, there is a farm called Finca El Edén. The owner, Nolberto Pérez, is a producer of specialty coffee who, after working 12 years in the city as an electronics technician, decided to pack his bags and move here. Today, in addition to coffee, he grows banana, cassava, and biofortified maize and beans, and he is sure that this was the best decision he ever made.

"I come from a farming family. One of my grandparents was a coffee farmer, the other a cattle rancher. My father and mother were raised in the city but I spent time with my grandparents. Since those years I adored the countryside," said Nolberto, whose farm is about 1,900 meters above sea level. "I live better now than I did before. I only hope I can live my whole life here in the countryside growing nourishing crops for my family," he said.

"With what I have planted, which is two rows, I am able to harvest at least one and a half arrobas (about 12 kg). That can last me at least four months. And in the area there are at least five producers who are planting biofortified crops, since we share the seeds among ourselves. This is very normal in the countryside. The neighbor comes and you say, ‘Have this seed.’ We share seed among ourselves. And in doing so, we share the nutritional value that it provides!"

Malawi: Vitamin A Maize and Iron Beans

In 2018, HarvestPlus Malawi partnered with Ekwendeni Mission Hospital, a private mission hospital located in Mzimba District in the northern part of Malawi. The hospital runs a community-based organization called Ekwendeni HIV/AIDS Program (EHAP), which formed a partnership with HarvestPlus Malawi. The program has introduced vitamin A maize and iron beans to EHAP members, most of whom are living with HIV/AIDS, as an intervention against malnutrition among affected people and their immediate family members.

There has been a noticeable increase in the production and consumption of vitamin A maize and iron bean in the area: 16 biofortified crop demonstration plots were established in the 2018/19 season and another 16 in the 2019/2020 growing season. The demand for biofortified seed in the area is growing such that EHAP procured 1 MT of iron bean and maize seeds in 2020 for its members. A maize yield of 4 MT per hectare was achieved by the beneficiaries. The main aim of the program was to enable beneficiary households produce more nutritious food crops to prevent nutrition deficiency-related illnesses.

"The Hospital continues to register cases related to vitamin A (and other micronutrient) deficiency, hence it is imperative to aggressively continue vitamin A orange maize (production) in the (area) for the benefit of the affected communities," says Donatten Twizelimana, Ekwendeni Hospital Administrator.