The worldwide proliferation of mobile devices, including in rural parts of low- and middle-income countries, has made social and other digital media readily available to billions of people. These platforms are becoming cost-effective ways of creating awareness and educating target populations interactively, even in the smallholder farming sector.

In Pakistan, there are nearly 200 million mobile phone subscriptions among a total population of 230 million, and an estimated 83 million internet users. To leverage this, HarvestPlus has been working with partners there to engage farmers and other value chain actors to promote production and consumption of nutrient enriched crops—specifically, zinc-biofortified wheat that was first introduced in Pakistan in 2016.

Three zinc wheat varieties have been released in Pakistan so far: Zincol 2016, Akbar 2019, and Nawab 2021. They are showing significant market momentum and rapidly reaching scale, with an estimated 20 percent of the wheat seed market in 2021. As of the end of 2021, an estimated 1.4 million smallholder farming households were growing zinc wheat, and 3.5 million tons of zinc wheat grain was produced that year.

HarvestPlus Pakistan has been using various digital platforms to help accelerate this scaling effort, complementing existing outreach methods such as crop field days, in-person trainings, and working through government extension services. Digital outreach has benefited from support through the Integrated Food Systems project funded by the Government of Canada, and the Commercialisation of Biofortified Crops Programme, funded by the Government of the Netherlands and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Raising awareness about zinc wheat’s benefits

The primary objective of digital campaigns was to raise awareness among farmers about the nutritional and agronomic benefits of the zinc wheat varieties. Based on initial successes in engaging farmers through digital channels, the campaign was expanded to inform farmers about biofortified crop management technologies, input use, segregation and aggregation of Zinc wheat varieties, and prevention of post-harvest losses.   

A zinc wheat testimonial in the digital campaign, with Dr. Anjum Ali Buttar of the Punjab Agriculture Department.

HarvestPlus Pakistan created pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as a YouTube channel Samajhdar Kisaan, and a mobile SMS campaign launched in collaboration with the extension services of the Agriculture Department of the Government of Punjab province, where the bulk of wheat is grown. The first round of campaigns started in mid-October 2021 and continued for 10 weeks, following by a second round which launched in May 2022 and is ongoing.

“Our digital media platforms performed well particularly Facebook and YouTube, and attained excellent reach and high engagement of wheat value chain actors,” said M. Yaqub Mujahid, Country Manager of HarvestPlus Pakistan. He added: “Based on the initial results, we have decided to continue the digital media campaign throughout the year for the next cropping season of biofortified zinc wheat”. 

Reaching millions

The campaign’s Facebook posts alone have reached more than 2.2 million people, generating more than 273,000 post engagements, while the YouTube videos received more than 160,000 views, and Instagram post reached more than 140,000 people. A seed promotion message was sent by SMS to 600,000 farmers through a telco.

The digital campaigns have received high marks from agriculture stakeholders in Pakistan. Rana Muhammad Khan, General Secretary of the Farmers Association at Faisalabad District in Pakistan, said: “The YouTube channel Samajhdar Kisaan is an amazing source of education for wheat growers. I regularly watch this channel to gather useful information about biofortified zinc wheat crop and also recommend other farmers to subscribe it” 

Javed Iqbal, President of the Farmers Association of Faisalabad in Pakistan, said “I regularly follow HarvestPlus Pakistan’s Facebook page and found it very useful with credible information regarding nutrition, crop management  technologies of zinc wheat, use of inputs, prevention of postharvest losses and other aspects related to biofortified zinc wheat varieties.”

The campaign has established digital media as a handy conduit for farmers to query HarvestPlus about seed prices, availability, yield, input use, and other issues, and for being linked directly to seed companies. Other value chain actors are interacting with the platforms to gather information about seed demand, grain availability, processing techniques, and other issues.

HarvestPlus produced more than 18 short videos comprising animated elements and testimonials from key agriculture sector experts, wheat growers, food technologists and social sector workers. In addition, more than 125 designed posts were developed with messages on zinc deficiency and its health consequences, the importance of biofortified zinc wheat, cropping technologies, the use of inputs, seed promotion, segregation, prevention of harvest and postharvest losses, and promotion of zinc enriched wheat flour.  

A cost-effective strategy

So far, digital media is proving to be a highly effective tool for communication, increasing visibility, and raising awareness among wheat value chain actors, with Facebook and YouTube content most impactful given the predominance of these platforms in the country. The digital media platforms were also highly cost effective in terms of cost per engagement, in comparison with field days and other traditionally types of farmer engagement methods.

Beyond Pakistan, HarvestPlus is working with technology partners in several other Asian and African countries to harness digital and other technologies to scale biofortification, such online marketplaces, traceability tools, and sensors and drones used to optimize farm activity.

Contact us for more information about how HarvestPlus works with tech and other partners to address malnutrition with nutrient enriched crops: [email protected].