Last summer, 400 farmers in the remote, rural Colombian towns of Naranjal, La Marina, and Ceylan were given seed packets of biofortified beans and maize. The farmers were motivated to grow the seeds in the right way and maximize their yields, but they needed to know how.
So, the HarvestPlus team in Colombia designed an educational campaign featuring the fictional character of Don Pedro—a farmer who shares information with the real farmers about how to grow these crops for best results.
The Don Pedro’s Friends initiative, which raised awareness through a visual campaign, garnered interest from the farmers who received the biofortified bean and maize seeds. The seeds were distributed by a caravan of members of the HarvestPlus team in Cali, who travelled far and wide to reach the remote farmers with little access to urban centers to procure seeds.
Radio messages were aired ahead of time in the target areas to inform the farmers that the caravan was coming to their towns. The announcement invited the farmers to approach the caravan and take biofortified seeds for their next cycle of crop production. The radio messages also informed the farmers that they would be able to taste the nutritious beans and maize when they came to pick up the seeds.
One of the challenges in growing biofortified crops is making good use of the seeds: knowing when to plant them, how to care for them, and preserving them for the next harvest. Therefore, the team arranged a field day for some of the farmers to learn about the best ways of growing the seeds they had received.
Don Pedro received seeds from HarvestPlus during the radio campaign so the educational material focused on how Don Pedro followed expert advice to save seeds for next season and, more importantly, to share some seeds with his fellow farmers. Also, the pictorial messages demonstrated how Don Pedro fed his family with biofortified crops.
The farmers were gathered for a field day in the rural areas near the city of Tuluá to learn about the care that should be taken when growing, storing, and harvesting biofortified seeds, through the illustrated materials provided to them. While enjoying a biofortified lunch, the farmers talked about how this activity would help them make the best use of their seed stash and avoid production problems that could adversely affect their harvest.
Oscar Villa, a bean producer, attended the field day to learn more about biofortified crops: “We were able to learn about the crop, see how it behaved in the field. We implemented the tips given to us that day in the bean plots Bugalagrande [a town near Tuluá]. The producers who planted beans have done very well. They are very happy,” said Villa.
All the farmers in the areas reached by HarvestPlus are smallholder producers with fields no larger than three hectares; most of them are part of farmers' associations where they share technical tips, profits, training opportunities etc. The farmers use manual harvesting techniques, and many of the farms are located on steep slopes far from the urban area. Some of the farmers load their harvest on horses or mules to get to the main road and have to travel long distances. A large percentage of their produce is sold, without intermediaries, at a local market in Tuluá—a municipality of 200,000 inhabitants in western Colombia.
In this initiative, 36 representatives from diverse associations participated, such as Asociación Asorepi and Piedritas. Also, representatives from the Secretariat for Agricultural Assistance and the Environment (SEDAMA) of Tuluá and the Municipal Agricultural Technical Assistance Unit (UMATA) attended the field day. All the attendees promised to convey all the messages and learnings to their colleagues in their respective organizations. To date, more than 1600 kilograms of seed has been delivered in the Tuluá area to more than 1800 beneficiaries.
Since 2017, HarvestPlus has been working in this area with several partners, including the World Food Programme. This initiative is part of the Naturally More Nutritious campaign that seeks to promote the consumption of biofortified crops in Colombia, and the producers have been trained in good production and management practices, and marketing techniques for seed adoption and sustainable consumption over time to achieve the impact we want.