HarvestPlus hosted a webinar on “Improving Nutrition Security with Biofortified Crops: Lessons From COVID-19 on the Path to Scaling Up,” that engaged several practitioners in a lively discussion about how their programs have adapted to COVID-19 and the way forward for scaling up this nutrition solution. More than 300 participants attended the webinar.

HarvestPlus CEO Arun Baral kicked off the webinar by referring to the growing malnutrition trend worldwide and reiterating the importance of the growth and consumption of biofortified crops for creating more nutritious, inclusive supply chains. He cited estimates that the impact of COVID-19 could push as many as half a billion people back into poverty. At present, more than 2 billion people worldwide, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, suffer from micronutrient deficiency that can be addressed with biofortified crops and foods. 

Journalist and author Roger Thurow highlighted the importance of biofortified foods for at-risk populations by citing a real-life example from his book research. He talked about Brenda from Uganda who suffered a still birth due to poor diet. After regularly consuming nutrient-rich biofortified foods, she then gave birth to a healthy baby, who has continued to pass all growth his milestones with flying colors. Thurow emphasized that Brenda’s story shows how crucial good nutrition is from conception to a child’s second birthday – the first 1,000 days of life.

Sylvia Magezi, country manager for HarvestPlus Uganda, shared lessons learned there since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and described how her team pivoted to be able to continue to supple crucial inputs to smallholder farmers and keep biofortified seed and food value chains strong. Notably, she said that they had to devise alternate strategies to reach out to households who were dependent on HarvestPlus support for inputs and technical assistance. These strategies included: using radio, digital technologies such as mobiles apps, and online tutorials, and engaging secondary and tertiary seed and vine multipliers to deliver enough planting materials to farmers.

Asrat Dibaba of World Vision Canada, who is the chief of party for the multi-country Enhancing Nutrition Services to Improve Maternal and Child Health in Africa and Asia (ENRICH) Project, spoke about their work promoting zinc-biofortified rice to farming families in Thakurgaon, in Northwestern Bangladesh. Citing examples of vulnerable populations benefiting from biofortified zinc rice, he highlighted the importance of adequate nutrition for maternal and child health in rural areas where staples are consumed without much dietary diversity. 

Sharing examples from Nicaragua, Nora Tobin, the executive director of Self-Help International, emphasized the importance of creating awareness about how crucial a nutrient-rich diet is to boost immunity, especially during the COVID-19 health crisis. She spoke about tailoring approaches to reach the maximum number of vulnerable people who could benefit from the nutrition offered by biofortified crops.

Simon Heck, program director at the International Potato Center, spoke about the nutritional value of biofortified crops, particularly vitamin A orange sweet potato and how it is playing a critical role in nutrition security in Mozambique. Simon said: “Today, one in three orange sweet potatoes grown and consumed in Mozambique is biofortified. We have learned during this pandemic the importance of having crop varieties that can be grown in different parts of the country.” He said that because of the threats of disruptions like COVID-19, it was important to invest in resilient food and value chain systems.