Private Sector Partnerships in South Asia Spur Growth in Biofortified Crops and Foods
July 26, 2021

In order to make staple crop biofortification a self-sustaining, scalable approach to addressing malnutrition, the private sector needs to be engaged and incentivized to participate. In South Asian countries, HarvestPlus is involved in several private sector partnerships to ensure efficient and vibrant markets for biofortified seed, crops, and foods. 

The approach focuses on improving productivity, resilience, and quality of biofortification value chains, and improving the availability and accessibility of nutritious biofortified products for farmers and consumers, at competitive prices.
 
“Private sector engagement and investment will help create an ecosystem for scaling up biofortified crops to address the complex issue of malnutrition,” said Binu Cherian, India country manager with Harvestplus, adding that private businesses bring “valuable expertise in distribution, creating consumer demand through innovative marketing and production infrastructure.” 

“Harnessing these engagements will help develop sustainable markets and efficient supply chains for biofortified crops to reach the most vulnerable consumers," he added. 
 

Private Sector Partnerships in South Asia

Below are some examples of private sector partnerships in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh which are advancing the scale-up of biofortified crops and foods: 

India: HarvestPlus and JK Agri Genetics

In India, private sector seed and food companies are among about 100 HarvestPlus partners that also include government and civil society actors. These partnerships leverage the partners’ reach, recognition, and expertise on the ground. 

JK Agri Genetics Ltd. is an Indian seed industry pioneer established in 1989. The company is committed to research, production, and commercialization of seeds for the welfare of farming communities across South Asia and Africa. 

HarvestPlus India and JK Agri Genetics entered a strategic partnership in 2009 as part of a commitment to scale up biofortified crops. The partnership focused on addressing malnutrition and hidden hunger through improving the iron and zinc content in pearl millet and wheat cultivars. As part of the partnership, JK Agri Genetics supports HarvestPlus India in research, seed trials, distribution, marketing, and sales. 

JK Agri Genetics works with the HarvestPlus program in India to identify new biofortified lines and has previously commercialized as a biofortified wheat variety (BHU-31). Since 2017, the BHU-31 seed variety has been sold under the brand name JK 5501. More than 800 tons of BHU-31 seed variety has been sold so far in India.

"A balanced, nutritious, and diverse diet helps in the development of physical and mental health. At JK, we breed crops to enhance yield by value-adding essential micronutrients naturally. We strive to bring this biofortified seed to the farmers. Growing and consuming biofortified food helps reduce dependency on synthetic oral medicines and supplements (such as pills and powders) for nutrition," said RSS Gurjar, a Senior Breeder at JK Agri Genetics.

The company's research mainly focuses on developing superior hybrids in several crops, including cotton, maize, pearl millet, sorghum, rice, mustard, and vegetables. JK Agri Genetics supports HarvestPlus in creating awareness and advocacy campaigns on biofortified crops among farmers and smallholders across India, particularly in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

JK Agri Genetics reaches about 800,000 farmers in India through its advocacy efforts. JK is also involved in various demand-generation activities such as seed multiplication and training to distributors and retailers. In India, JK Agri Genetics adopts a context-specific approach called participatory varietal selection (PVS). Under PVS, a wide choice of crop varieties is provided to Indian farmers to test and evaluate according to their particular environmental conditions and available resources. 

"We at JK Agri believe it is our responsibility to help and support any endeavor that works on nutritional security along with food security for the people in India. It is our conscious choice to collaborate with HarvestPlus to complement our efforts in building a nutritionally strong India. We hope our collaborative efforts will go beyond India in the future," said Gyanendra Shukla, President and Director at JK Agri Genetics.

With many national and international research collaborations to their credit, JK Agri Genetics and HarvestPlus India are working towards key objectives such as identification, testing, and development of iron- and zinc-biofortified (hybrid) varieties. Other goals include the commercialization of biofortified crop varieties through active engagement in several public-private partnerships. These partnerships are a tool to popularize biofortified products so that farmers can receive better returns and household nutrition.

Pakistan: HarvestPlus and Family Farm Foods

In Pakistan, Family Farm Foods (FFF) is one of HarvestPlus’ private sector partners that help engage urban consumers. FFF was founded in 2017 by Malik Waqar Abbas, a professional working in the agriculture and food processing sector. Abbas wanted to set up an innovative business model to deliver high standards and value-added foods for consumers. He belongs to a farming family and has considerable experience working in agriculture and food processing. 

Abbas started growing zinc-biofortified wheat because he wanted to help address the country’s serious rate of malnutrition. In 2017, HarvestPlus partnered with FFF to improve nutrition and public health by promoting Zincol 2016, a zinc wheat variety. Subsequently, FFF also started growing another zinc wheat variety, Akbar2019. Both varieties were developed by R&D Institutions such as Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC, Islamabad) and Wheat Research Institute (Faisalabad) respectively in collaboration with HarvestPlus  and approved for release by the Punjab Seed Council.

"As a progressive farmer, I believe that building a partnership with HarvestPlus provided an opportunity to enhance my capacity to help alleviate zinc deficiency in the country. The HarvestPlus team provided technical support and assistance for promoting zinc wheat in Pakistan, including my farms. As a result, at present, 25 acres of my farmland is utilized to grow the Zincol 2016 and Akbar2019," said Abbas.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many disruptions to economic activity in Pakistan, especially within supply chains. Fortunately for Abbas, FFF's social media-based marketing campaigns and free delivery service model have been sustainable even during the lockdowns in Lahore, the capital city of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Social media accounts were created on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook and linked with the WhatsApp number of the company. Using digital media for marketing helped FFF reach a new customer base and helped overcome supply constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Our major chunk of customers for biofortified wheat flour is located in Lahore. Since we offer them a free home delivery service, nearly 95 percent of our customers avail this service. Moreover, most of our customers are women," said Abbas. The market churns out nearly 48 tons per annum.

Presently, FFF's primary competitors are the roller mills and local chakkis (grinding mills) that supply whole wheat flour. However, compared to the whole wheat flour produced by chakkis, FFF's zinc-enriched whole wheat flour has the added advantage of better nutrition, and with the potential to expand to more cities. 

Over the last few years, FFF has successfully marketed its product as a more-nutritious alternative to wheat flour. This added advantage has won over a loyal customer base in Lahore. However, despite its competitive advantage, a lot needs to be done to create consumer awareness at the grassroots level.

"The continuation of demand generation activities by the Government of Pakistan and HarvestPlus may be beneficial for raising further awareness among consumers about health benefits of biofortified wheat flour," added Abbas. 

Bangladesh: HarvestPlus and Ali Seed Farm

Ali Seed Farm is one of the first and most active private seed partners of HarvestPlus. It is located in the south-western region of Bangladesh and owned by Shahanwaz Ali. He began seed multiplication activities following enactment of the Seed Act in 1998, which ended a monopoly in production of foundation seed Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC), a government agency. 

Ali also went on to found and serve as president of an association for seed businesses called the Small and Medium Seed Producers Association (SMSPA). Ali and his business colleagues established the platform on the advice of Mohammad Khairul Bashar, a former head of the Genetic Resources and Seed (GRS) division of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), and currently country manager for HarvestPlus Bangladesh. To date, the association has registered more than 177 small- and medium-size seed companies as members.

The SMSPA’s business model consists of collecting breeder seed from BRRI and the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), and subsequently distributing the seeds to its enlisted contract growers. The contract growers are supplied biofortified zinc rice varieties on the condition that SMSPA can buy back the seeds for processing and selling. Thus, by providing commitments to contract growers to purchase their production with a price (BDT 100 per 40kg) higher than the prevailing market price, SMSPA is catalyzing seed production activities at the grassroots level in Bangladesh. 

Moreover, SMSPA provides technical support to the contract growers and facilitates the Seed Certification Agency (SCA) to ensure the quality of field standards for zinc rice plots. The SMSPA also collects the zinc rice seeds from the contract growers and stores it after drying, grading, and processing. It then packages the final product into 2kg, 5kg and 10kg packs with their company logos.

HarvestPlus first contracted SMSPA as a seed partner in 2013, and SMSPA has produced and supplied seeds for five zinc rice varieties: BRRI dhan62, BRRI dhan64, BRRI dhan72, BRRI dhan74, and BRRI dhan84. The SMSPA also produced and supplied seed of another zinc rice variety released by the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA): Binadhan-20.  

During this partnership, SMSPA established demo plots of zinc rice and conducted various awareness-raising activities like farmer field days, yard meetings and school programs. In 2021, Ali Seed Farm began a new partnership under the Commercialization of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Programme, which is co-led by HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Government of the Netherlands. 

In 2020, Ali Seed Farm produced 200 metric tons of zinc rice seed. Realizing the growth potential of zinc rice, Ali Seed Farm has also initiated the processing of zinc rice grain and has been actively supplying zinc rice grain across Bangladesh.

“For me, growing zinc rice is not just a business. I am happy to serve society by distributing zinc rice seeds to vulnerable people who do not get enough zinc in their daily diet,” said Ali.

Scaling up through local partnerships

Since 2003, HarvestPlus has been actively partnering with stakeholders in low- and middle-income countries to scale up biofortification to end hidden hunger. Strengthening partnerships with local stakeholders such as seed companies and food manufacturers allows HarvestPlus to combine its global vision to fight micronutrient deficiency, or "hidden hunger," with contextualized, locally-embedded business solutions. Such a localized approach is crucial as it helps build sustainable business models that can endure against the region's specific challenges and the global challenges facing the agrarian community. 

Strengthening models for biofortified value chains and making them more sustainable have become paramount to reaching the objective of addressing malnutrition through nutritious staple foods. By partnering across domestic value chains in South Asia, HarvestPlus is strengthening the capacity of multiple stakeholders such as public and private seed-sector companies, mill owners, farmers, and buyers in the local food system.

To explore partnership opportunities with HarvestPlus, contact us: harvestplus@cgiar.org.

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