HarvestPlus Continues Support for Beneficiaries and Partners Amid COVID-19 Challenges

As the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it continue to challenge countries around the world, the impact on global food and nutrition security has come to the fore. For vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries, who have difficulty affording healthy and diverse diets in the best of times, there is now far greater risk of suffering from hunger, malnutrition, and illness. 

In response, the staff of HarvestPlus have taken multiple measures to ensure that our primary beneficiaries—8.5 million smallholder farming families, with more than 42 million family members— continue to receive the nutrition, health, and livelihood benefits of their biofortified crops. We have adapted and innovated our support and facilitation practices so that our beneficiaries remain able to plant, cultivate, and harvest their crops, and sell surplus crop as needed. We are also actively engaging public and private partners to enact supportive measures. 

See how HarvestPlus is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic 

Beyond the immediate pandemic response, the crisis also redoubles our commitment in the longer term to make food systems healthier and more inclusive of smallholders and other vulnerable groups, and boost these groups’ resilience to health and other threats. 

One key takeaway from the pandemic is the advantage of localized food systems, which are less prone to supply and transportation disruptions that put farmers at risk; this validates our delivery model of catalyzing biofortified food systems that are in proximity to smallholder farmers and meet their farming and marketing needs. In addition, the impact of COVID-19 is likely to force more vulnerable people to rely on relativley lower-cost but less nutritious staples for the bulk of thier diets. Biofortification is a way to deliver nutrition and health through staples at no additional cost to farming families or governments. 

Empowering Others, Leveraging Technologies

The pandemic also adds increased urgency to strategies we are already pursuing to increase the reach, efficiency, and sustainability of biofortification. These include empowering more in-country public, private, and NGO partners to advance and implement biofortification in a sustainable manner. One high priority is increasing collaboration with national farmer extension networks and farm supply and service providers in the private sector, which already have close links with smallholder farmers. 

We also are leveraging technologies—such as mobile and digital tools, electronic media, and e-commerce platforms—to facilitate at-distance information sharing and training, and increase efficiency in transactions along seed and food value chains. 

For example, we are exploring the use of SMS-based platforms in various countries to deliver and share information and provide advice to farmers, and facilitate their seed and input supply, certify their biofortified crops, and product sales. We are also currently testing e-commerce platforms to connect farmers, aggregators, food companies, and value chain actors, and provide price and other key market information.

With partners in Uganda, we helped develop a mobile platform that allows farmers of vitamin A orange sweet potato to quickly locate sources of certified vines for planting and transmit queries about OSP viruses, pests, and other issues to government inspectors. A mapping tool on the platform tracks the query locations to help monitor the prevalence of crop risks as they develop. Meanwhile, we are working with technology partners on assessing tools to trace and verify the authenticity of biofortified products in seed and food value chains—essential to growing these markets. 

Working together with our many partners, we are confident that we will be able to help our beneficiaries navigate this very challenging time, and emerge better prepared for challenges ahead. 

Below are recent posts about how HarvestPlus is working and adjusting under the global health crisis: 

Reaching Farmers and Vulnerable Communities Amid COVID-19
HarvestPlus staff are working to reach beneficiaries in novel ways amid lockdowns and other challenges. From WhatsApp to seeds-by-mail to virtual training, find out what we are doing to adapt to COVID-19 related restrictions.

After COVID-19, Rethinking Food Systems to Support Healthy, Thriving Communities
In this opinion piece, Bansanta Kar and Rewa Misra explore ways of ensuring food security for the most vulnerable against the backdrop of the COVID-19 public health crisis. They argue for the policymakers, researchers and the agriculture sector to come together to systematically solve the food divide that the pandemic has highlighted.

COVID-19 Highlights Need to Boost Resilience of Africa's Rural Poor 
In a joint opinion piece with the Clinton Foundation and CIMMYT, HarvestPlus CEO Arun Baral shows how a project involving all three partners in Malawi highlights the need to provide smallholder farming families with crops and market linkages that can boost their health as well as their livelihoods. Only in this way can these families become more resilient and prepared to weather future shocks. 

Coronavirus Pandemic Highlights Need To Ensure Good Nutrition
The first line of defense against infections for people is a healthy immune system. Dr. Erick Boy, head of nutrition at HarvestPlus, highlights the essential role of micronutrients and how biofortified crops help.

Amid COVID-19, An Effective Nutrition Response At No Extra Cost to People, Governments
HarvestPlus Founder Howarth "Howdy" Bouis provides a personal view from the Philippines, where he lives, on the impact of lockdown on low-income farmers in his predominantly rural town. Using this as a jumping-off point, he argues that biofortified crops, where available, can be an immediate help to relife and longer-term nutriiton efforts. 

Colombian Farmers Donate Zinc Rice to Coronavirus-Stricken Cartagena
The farmers of Leticia, a vulnerable community near Cartagena, Colombia, decided recently to donate their precious zinc-biofortified rice production to the people of Cartagena — one of the locations in the country most affected by the current pandemic.

Locked Down, not Knocked Down: Addressing the COVID-19 Hunger Threat
HarvestPlus CEO, Arun Baral, emphasizes that during the global pandemic the focus should be on strengthening – if not transforming—food systems to deliver healthy, nutritious food for all.  This means making every effort to ensure food supplies and systems are more nutritious, affordable, sustainable, and inclusive.  Delivering Nourishing Sweet Potatoes to Panama’s Markets Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Delivering Nourishing Sweet Potatoes to Panama’s Markets Amid COVID-19 Crisis​​​​​​​
Ariquimedes Peralta, grower of biofortified vitamin A orange sweet potato (OSP) has been travelling every 15 days to the capital, Panama City, to supply OSP to the main food markets since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the supply stable even though there are restrictions on mobility. 

Bangladesh Govt. Supports Farmers to Ensure Food Supply During COVID-19
The Bangladesh government ensured an uninterrupted supply chain for agricultural inputs amid the COVID-19 lockdown, allowing farmers to harvest their crops with technical support at their disposal. The government also enacted policies to protect farmers and ensure the food supply remained unhampered. 

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