The more farmers learn about nutrient-enriched crops, the more they want to grow them.
In Pakistan, increased awareness among farmers and value chain actors about biofortification has rocketed the zinc-enriched wheat variety Akbar 2019 into popularity as a “mega variety” in Punjab province.
Universities, the government, civil society, and other partners are joining HarvestPlus to speak up about zinc wheat as a vital tool to alleviate zinc deficiency and improve livelihoods—stimulating further demand.
Five zinc wheat seed promotion seminars were organized by HarvestPlus and partners across Punjab in late 2022. The seminars brought together over 500 people from across the food supply chain, from farmers to extension workers, and seed companies to food processors, as well as academics, agricultural scientists, government representatives, and other civil society actors.
Attendees learned of the value and importance of nutrient-enriched climate smart crops and quickly became vocal champions of them.
“Awareness raising and establishing market linkages among farmers and actors along the value chain are key to promoting planting of biofortified zinc wheat varieties,” said Anjum Ali Buttar, Director General Agriculture (Extension and Adaptive Research) at the Government of Punjab. “Punjab agricultural extension workers that participate in seed promotion seminars go on to encourage farmers to adopt nutrient-enriched varieties. As a result, thousands of farmers are now growing nutrient-enriched zinc wheat varieties in Punjab province.”
The Provincial Minister of Agriculture in Punjab, Syed Hussain Jahania Gardezi, spoke of his gratitude to HarvestPlus and its partner, Association for Gender Awareness and Human Empowerment (AGAHE), for arranging the seed promotion seminars. “We have started reaping the results of increased cultivation of biofortified zinc wheat varieties and its consumption,” he said, while reiterating his support for zinc wheat to help address malnutrition.
“Farmers and consumers are realizing the importance of biofortified zinc wheat. It is helping them improve their nutrition and health outcomes,” Gardezi continued. “Increased awareness among farmers and value chain actors also helps segregate high zinc wheat varieties from conventional varieties, so food processors can identify and process the biofortified wheat flour for their consumers.”
Students Sow the Benefits of Zinc Wheat
Improved zinc-enriched wheat varieties have also caught the attention of the next generation of agriculturalists. Over 200 students and academics from the Muhammad Nawaz Shareef University of Agriculture in Multan (MNSUAM) attended one of the zinc wheat seminars, organized with the support of the university.
Many students later reached out to farmers in their areas to increase awareness of the health consequences of zinc deficiency and encourage them to cultivate high zinc wheat varieties.
Professor Umar Farooq, Chairman of the Department of Food Science and Technology at MNSUAM, expressed his support and excitement about co-hosting a seed promotion seminar with HarvestPlus, “The seminar provided an opportunity to farmers, food businesses, and other value chain actors to interact with experts and ask questions about zinc wheat varieties, the inputs needed, seed availability, cropping technologies, yield optimization, prevention of post-harvest losses, and how to improve nutrition among farming families and those most at risk of malnutrition.”
Scaling Up Zinc Wheat in Pakistan
In Pakistan, where approximately twenty percent of women and children suffer from zinc deficiency—and wheat consumption is one of the highest in the world—zinc wheat offers a sustainable and proven food-based solution to increase zinc intakes.
Over the past five years, the number of households growing zinc wheat has risen rapidly across the country from 218,000 in 2018 to over 2.1 million in 2022. HarvestPlus and its partners continue to drive demand to scale up zinc wheat, with the aim of reaching all corners of the country where people need it most.