A Fair Bet: Promoting Biofortified Crops and Foods to Improve Livelihoods in Nigeria’s Niger State
Victor Ekeleme | HarvestPlus Nigeria
August 22, 2021

To help scale production and consumption of biofortified crops, address food security, and improve the livelihood and nutrition status of citizens in Niger state, HarvestPlus Nigeria and other stakeholders partnered with the Niger State government to host the third edition of the Niger Wet Season, Agricultural Inputs and Equipment fair, with the theme of “Promoting Technologies for Livelihood Improvement.”

The fair has recorded tangible successes in different result areas: 

  • At least 1600 participants who attended were sensitized on vitamin A maize and cassava as a tool for income generation and nutrition security. 
  • Nine local agro-dealers were linked with seed companies.
  • At least 100 aggregators, processors and extension agents received capacity strengthening on food safety, with a focus on good practices to reduce aflatoxin during storage and transportation of produce. 
  • One new seed company (Da Allgreen Seeds) was integrated into the vitamin A maize value chain. 
  • Over 150 women and youth were trained to process and utilise biofortified crops.

Agriculture provides livelihood for about 80 percent of the inhabitants of Niger state; major staple crops such as maize, cassava, rice, and sorghum are widely grown and consumed by smallholder farmers in the state. However, farmers in this region still experience low yields and lack the skills to process and properly utilize these crops. This is largely due to poor access to improved seeds and technologies as well as the ongoing use of outdated equipment and farming practices. 

To address these challenges faced by smallholder farmers, HarvestPlus Nigeria, under the Commercialization of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Programme, collaborated with the Niger State government to host farmers and other key players in the agricultural value chain for the two-day fair. The CBC Programme is co-led by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and HarvestPlus, and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and the Government of the Netherlands. 

The fair aimed to make improved and competitive biofortified varieties available to farmers, strengthen capacities in processing and utilization of biofortified crops, and improve access to modern farm inputs and technologies, all with a view toward boosting agricultural productivity in the state.

The Niger State Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. Zakari Jikantoro, launched the fair and stated that it was an effective platform for the farmers to access improved technologies, network with agro-suppliers, and procure services toward the development of the agriculture sector in the state and Nigeria at large. Jikantoro said farmers will also benefit from the availability of biofortified varieties that will improve their livelihood, and ensure good health and food security, which is a major concern of the state and federal government.

Jikantoro commended HarvestPlus Nigeria and partners for the initiative and promised the state's commitment to sustaining the mutual relationship.

"This will certainly improve the production of quality improved products in our state; we now have varieties such as vitamin A cassava, vitamin A maize, and zinc rice that can compete favorably in the international market,” said Hon. Zakari Jikantoro.

Empowering women and youth with nutritious crops

Another clear objective of the fair was to empower women and youth in Niger state by raising their level of knowledge about nutrition, food processing and safety, best agricultural practices, and best storage practices to reduce food losses. Over 150 selected women and youth received practical training on biofortified cassava and maize processing that targets both household consumption and commercialization.  

Pelumi Aribisala, Co-founder of CATO Foods and an SME partner of HarvestPlus, led the training for women extension officers on processing and utilization of biofortified crops. He said that more than 60 women showed interest and were trained on various combinations of biofortified foods recipes they can process at home.  

Aribisala added that this would help to reduce the rate of malnutrition at the grassroots and ensure food security.

"Our aim is to train these women to become nutrition-sensitive and nutrition ambassadors in their communities. We look forward to them educating other women in the rural areas where we have many vulnerable groups,” said Aribisala.

Zinc maize, rice in the pipeline

Speaking during the opening ceremony, HarvestPlus Country Manager Paul Ilona disclosed that HarvestPlus plans to introduce zinc-enriched maize and rice to farmers in Nigeria. 

According to Ilona, the organization's mission is to develop and scale up the delivery of these nutritious crops around the world, so that every child, woman, and man who needs them can have access.

Commenting on the CBC Programme partnership with GAIN, he said the purpose was to ensure that value chain actors profit from biofortified products: the seed company that multiplies these varieties; the agro dealer that sells seeds at the community level; the farmer who increases yield with these varieties and improves his income; the processor who processes into products is able to have the quality raw material from these varieties. This is all yielding results, said Ilona. 

"Last year, major maize markets like Kamfani Bobi, Mariga, and Manigi were identified as hubs for the vitamin A maize grains in Niger State. Large-scale processors are at the moment aggregating the vitamin A maize from these locations to other parts of the country,” Ilona noted., adding that with “the volume of fresh vitamin A maize already coming from Gurara and Paikoro this season, we are optimistic that Lambata and Paiko markets will for sure be the new additions to the hubs.”

As efforts intensify to commercialize biofortified crops in Nigeria, HarvestPlus Nigeria and GAIN anticipate that more than 15 million people will be benefiting from biofortified crops and foods by 2022.

It is estimated that 29.5 percent of children under five years in Nigeria are deficient in vitamin A, putting them at risk of illness and death. HarvestPlus aims to speed adoption and consumption of biorfortified crops by creating and strengthening demand for the new vitamin A maize varieties, thereby also improving the health status of millions of Nigerians. 

HarvestPlus coordinates Nigeria’s staple crop biofortification program, which launched in 2010 as a complementary strategy to address micronutrient deficiency—particularly vitamin A deficiency. So far, six vitamin A-biofortified varieties of cassava, ten varieties of maize, and three varieties of orange sweet potato have been released in Nigeria. Development of iron-zinc sorghum and iron pearl millet are in advanced stages.

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