The Commercialization of Biofortified Crops Programme (CBC) continues to expand its efforts to address food and nutrition security in Nigeria. The programme’s recent campaign in Nasarawa State shows how collaborative action and government participation can spark action at the grassroots level.
Nigeria is one of six countries across Africa and Asia where the The CBC Programme is currently working with partners to scale biofortified crops and foods through commercial channels. The programme is co-led by HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Government of the Netherlands.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of Nasarawa State, which is endowed with fertile land and favorable climatic conditions that make it highly suitable for the production of biofortified staple crops. A partnership between the CBC Programme and the Nasarawa State Government—specifically the Nasarawa Agricultural Development Programme (NADP)—is promoting investment in biofortified crops and foods in the state, creating income-generating opportunities for young people along the vitamin A cassava and vitamin A maize value chains, and also supporting women to produce nutrient-enriched foods at the individual and commercial level.
The dynamics of this effort was on display at the the Biofort Seedfair in the state, which took place in May 2022 under the theme of “Promoting investment, nutrition awareness and job opportunities in agriculture.” The fair hosted partners, government agencies, stakeholders, and private organizations in the agri-sector, as well as more than 1,400 farmers (including women and youth farmers) from different parts of the state, signifying a keen interest in growing biofortified crops.
One of the objectives of the programme is to stimulate demand for nutritious food in the state by increasing awareness and driving interest among the general public on the need to grow nutrient-enriched, climate-resilient crop varieties, and consume food that is nutritious and safe.
In his opening remarks at the Fair, the Hon. Nuhu Oshafu, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Nasarawa State, noted that the introduction of the project in Nasarawa is timely because the Government is joining other states in Nigeria in transforming all primary agricultural staples into industrial and commercial staple crops.
“Our partnership with the CBC programme is well placed because the climate situation of Nasarawa state favors the cultivation of biofortified staples crops. This attribute will attract investment in the state agri-sector, thereby creating expansion and goal-oriented commercialization of biofortified crops,” said Oshafu.
At the fair, farmers attended technical training sessions on good agronomic practices, proper pesticides and herbicides use, agro-equipment handling, and income generation through vitamin A cassava stem & maize seed production. Women in agriculture were also trained in product development and improved processing techniques for the production of nutrient-enriched food products at the household and commercial level. At the end of the fair, those trained received samples of newly released vitamin A cassava stems that are climate-smart and have increased levels of vitamin A compared to previously released varieties.
The Biofort Seedfair also featured a Smart Mother Platform event, which focuses on building the knowledge of mothers about food choices and healthy feeding practices, empowering women to produce and process nutritious foods for their family and for income generation, and the establishment of advocates and role models on food and nutrition-related activities. The HarvestPlus SmartMother Platform recruits mothers as nutrition champions to hold sensitization programs in their communities to share nutrition information with other mothers, and provide guidance on making foods from biofortified crops for household consumption as well as income generation.
HarvestPlus CBC Nigeria Project Manager Goodluck Ogu explained that the programme will help address a serious malnutrition burden. He noted that Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent for children under five. An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition while 7 percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition.
“Our intervention in the state contributes to the overall mission of HarvestPlus and GAIN of ending this scourge of malnutrition by supporting farmers to grow improved biofortified crop varieties, while encouraging women through the Smart Mother initiative to understand and appreciate the importance of consuming and feeding their families with food products from biofortified crops.”
Joyce Akpata, GAIN Head of Policy and Advocacy, called on government stakeholders present at the fair to encourage relevant government agencies to champion the adoption of biofortified varieties.
“We can achieve this by ensuring the right policies and budget are in place to drive awareness creation and adoption of biofortified crops and foods,” she said.
So far, six vitamin A-biofortified varieties of cassava, eight varieties of maize, and three varieties of orange sweet potato have been released in Nigeria (the CBC Programme currently focuses only on vitamin A maize and cassava). Development of iron/zinc sorghum and iron pearl millet are in advanced stages. By the end of 2021, 1.83 million smallholder farming families were growing vitamin A cassava and 1.58 million were growing vitamin A maize. About 15 million Nigerians are expected to benefit from the CBC programme.