The first varieties of zinc-enriched wheat recently became available for farmers to grow in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where 20 percent of rural children do not have adequate zinc in their diets and rates of stunting are alarming.

The two biofortified varieties, Tarnab Rehbar and Tarnab Gandum-1, contain on an average 40 percent more zinc than other varieties currently grown in Pakistan. The zinc-enriched wheat varieties also feature numerous farmer-preferred traits including high yield and resistance to rust diseases. The crops cater to both irrigated and rain-fed farms. With this initiative, five biofortified zinc wheat varieties are now available across Pakistan.

“The launch of Tarnab Rehbar and Tarnab Gandum-1 is an important step towards reducing malnutrition in the province of KP. Seed multiplication and distribution of these varieties to farmers through public and private seed companies will help improve food and nutrition security,” said Abdul Bari, Director General of Agriculture Research KP, at the launch ceremony.

The launch was held on May 9, 2023 and attended by prominent agriculture scientists, academics, seed companies, farmers, civil society, and media. HarvestPlus partnered with Agriculture Research Institute Tarnab, Peshawar- Pakistan to launch these newly released varieties in KP province of Pakistan.

HarvestPlus Pakistan’s Team Lead of Innovation and Commercialization, Imtiaz Muhammad, addressed attendees at the launch ceremony, “HarvestPlus is committed to working closely with research and development institutions, farmers, and other value chain actors to extend the reach of biofortified crops.” Muhammad shared recent examples of zinc wheat supply chains developed in Punjab province that can be replicated in KP to make zinc wheat flour readily available to consumers.

“The availability of zinc wheat in KP is great news, as a major proportion of the population relies on wheat as the staple of their diet. Millions of smallholder farmers and vulnerable populations may benefit from the increased availability of zinc wheat seed for cultivation,” said Ahsan Ullah Miankhel, Chief Executive Officer of Miankhel Seed Corporation, a local company. Miankhel acknowledged the importance of the private sector in supplying a nutritious food system and extended his support to HarvestPlus and the KP government for the multiplication and distribution of zinc wheat seed to farmers.   

Pakistan carries a high burden of malnutrition. In KP specifically, 40 percent of children under five years old are stunted, with an even higher prevalence (over 48 percent) in the newly merged districts of the province.

More than 2.1 million farming families are currently growing and eating zinc wheat in Pakistan. These new zinc wheat varieties bring promise that even more at-risk families will be able to grow biofortified crops, and eat the nutrients they need to thrive.