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High-iron pearl millet in India. Photo: A. Saltzman (HarvestPlus)

HarvestPlus’s delivery plans can read like story problems: how can only 2 full-time staff deliver tons of high-iron pearl millet seed to tens fo thousands of farmers this summer? In India, HarvestPlus is partnering with a private sector seed company to assist with this massive seed dissemination effort. Beginning last month, Nirmal Seeds started selling high-iron pearl millet seed throughout Maharashtra.

In this area of India, the most popular open-pollinated pearl millet variety, ICTP 8203, is grown by about 700,000 farmers. Using conventional methods, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), with funding from HarvestPlus, has bred a higher-iron version of this same variety that also produces 15% higher yields. The improved variety, named ICTP 8203-Fe, has all the traits farmers like in the original version, including the slate gray-colored grains from which “pearl” millet gets its name.

Nirmal Seeds Pvt. Ltd. is a natural partner for HarvestPlus because it is the largest private producer and distributor of ICTP 8203 in Maharashtra. Nirmal has been in the seed business for 25 years and does everything from R&D to sales throughout India—they have 1,330 distributors in 19 states. Each distributor works with 300-500 dealers, who sell seeds for a variety of field and vegetable crops.

In the summer 2012 season, Nirmal plans to sell 600 metric tons of ICTP 8203-Fe, enough to plant 120,000 ha (290,000 acres). This is about the same area as the city of Los Angeles, California!

For farmers, seeing is believing, and Nirmal uses field demonstration days to show farmers the benefits of growing high-iron ICTP 8203 and to teach them more about the importance of consuming iron. Farmers use this opportunity to evaluate the pearl millet growing in the demonstration field before choosing varieties to plant on their own farms. Nirmal is also using packaging, billboards, and mobile campaigns to advertise this improved variety.

HarvestPlus and Nirmal Seeds aim to reach tens of thousands of farmers to grow the biofortified pearl millet in 2012. The grain from this crop will feed Indian farm families, who will mill it and consume it as bread, chapatti, or porridge. For Indian women and children getting more iron at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this will be a story problem with a happy ending.