The Commercialization of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Programme is taking the battle against hidden hunger across eight target states in Nigeria through the Biofort Seedfair platform. This initiative is a pre-planting season activity that enables farmers to make plans to introduce biofortified crops into their planting calendar. 

The first edition, held in Awka, Anambra State, saw over 1,500 farmers, youth, and women trained and introduced to newly released drought-tolerant vitamin A cassava and maize seed varieties. 

Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five. An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) while 7 percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition. Vitamin A has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the micronutrients that are most lacking in diets. 

To this end, through the CBC Programme, HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) have begun this initiative as part of an information-sharing campaign that contributes to the eradication of vitamin A deficiency across these eight states in Nigeria. The CBC Programme is co-led by HarvestPlus and GAIN, and is funded by the Government of the Netherlands and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Nigeria is one of six countries where the CBC Progamme is currently being implemented. 

The campaign in Nigeria includes a seed fair component themed “Promoting Investment, Nutrition awareness and job opportunities in Agriculture,” and aims to provide linkages across the vitamin A cassava and maize value chains, boost vitamin A cassava and maize production through youth empowerment, and mainstream women into biofortification through the Smart Mother platform. 

Inaugurating the seed fair, the Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development of Anambra State, the Hon. Nnamdi Onukwuba said the state was determined to support the CBC Programme in its efforts to address malnutrition, by improving the availability and accessibility of seeds and nutritious biofortified products for farmers and consumers, at competitive prices.

He continued: “The government has given a major impetus to the initiative, adding that the promotion of biofortification in the state would help farmers to adopt these improved seeds varieties as well as produce value-added nutritious products from these crops.”

The Commissioner noted that the state was determined to attack the complex challenge of malnutrition through balanced diversified diets, and has adopted biofortified crops to help address the challenge.

He said the goal of the state government is to popularize biofortified products so that farmers not only gain economic value from the crop but also improve the health and wellbeing of their households.

The Commissioner also highlighted the importance of advocating for biofortification’s integration in key policy documents. In Anambra, he noted that biofortification was embedded in several policy frameworks, including for health and nutrition as well as for agriculture and food security.

He assured that there was a future for biofortified crops in Anambra in terms of policy support and further advances in technology. He said government of Prof. Charles Soludo was going to guarantee biofortification’s future success following inclusion in its agricultural policies, which focused on food processing.

He restated that the government was going to work with HarvestPlus and GAIN to ensure that the crops are widely disseminated to farming households who need them most.

Speaking about the fair, he said: “Hidden hunger is caused by deficiencies in micronutrients in our diet. This can lead to blindness and stunted growth. So, we are here to discuss how to address the challenges of malnutrition through nutrient-enriched biofortified products. We are learning how to incorporate foods rich in vitamins in our food through cropping. By holding this seed fair in Anambra, HarvestPlus and GAIN want to help us promote homegrown solutions to enrich our diet with vitamin A cassava and maize.”

Through the support of the CBC Programme, Commissioner Onukwuba assured the farmers that this administration will deploy its machinery to bring biofortified seeds to farmers. 

He praised HarvestPlus and GAIN for creating awareness and advocacy campaigns on biofortified crops and foods among farmers and smallholders across the country, hoping the two-day programme strengthens seed multiplication abilities as well as exposes the farmers to vitamin A cassava varieties that work on nutritional security along with food security for the people.

HarvestPlus CBC Nigeria Project Manager, Goodluck Ogu, noted that micronutrient deficiency has is substantially affecting the nutritional status of many Nigerians. He said that these deficiencies compromise growth and accentuate morbidity, mortality, brain damage, and reduced cognitive and working capacities in both children and adults. Ogu reiterated that the CBC Programme was on a campaign to work with its partners in eight states to scale up biofortification to end hidden hunger. 

HarvestPlus and GAIN support a multi-sectoral approach to promote biofortification as an effective technique to address widespread micronutrient deficiency, which primarily targets low-income smallholder farming families. 

Since no single intervention addresses all micronutrient deficiencies, this year, a smart mother campaign will be organized in the eight target states where women advocates and ambassadors will be selected to play a nutrition-sensitive role in their communities. These women will serve as grassroots change-makers by promoting the consumption of nutritious foods and healthy living in their communities.

Major highlights at the fair include the dissemination of the newly released vitamin A cassava stem variety 144 farmers, training of 304 women on improved techniques of processing and utilization of biofortified food crops, training of 208 farmers on production and processing of value-added products from Vitamin A cassava for Income generation and family consumption, and income generation through vitamin A cassava stem production.

At the end of 2021, 1.82 million smallholder farming families were growing vitamin A cassava and 1.57 million were growing vitamin A maize in Nigeria.