Kukribigah is a quaint village in the Dulhin Bazar district of Patna, India. In a novel effort to help promote biofortification in Bihar State, where Patna is located, the Rural Development Council (RDC) and the Government of Bihar have partnered with HarvestPlus to make Kukribigah a model “nutritional village,” where the 475 rural households will only cultivate biofortified crops using organic methods. 

Dr. Prem Kumar, the Honorable Minister of Agriculture in the Government of Bihar, laid the foundation stone for this first-of-its kind village on Sept. 20. The project comes amid a broader commitment by the Government of Bihar to significantly scale up production and consumption of zinc-biofortified wheat in the state, which has the highest rate of stunting in India. 

Agricultural universities, state-run institutes and HarvestPlus India have collaborated to promote zinc-biofortified wheat in Bihar. Regular consumption of this wheat can help address zinc deficiency, which can cause stunting as well as diarrhea, malaria, and lower respiratory infections. The agriculture minister has directed the Bihar Department of Agriculture and State Seed Corporation to start the production of biofortified zinc wheat seeds, with the aim of making biofortified seed easily available to all farmers across the state. This commitment to increase seed supply should significantly help accelerate scaling up of biofortification. 

The nutritional village will demonstrate a holistic farming model that optimizes nutrition for farming families and also promotes ecological resilience. In order to promote organic farming methods, the state will provide the farmers with organic pesticides and insecticides. The farmers will receive seeds free of cost and other farm inputs such as organic manure and mechanical tools to prepare the fields for farming and harvesting the crop. The project also sponsors training in modern methods of farming and the use of advanced farming implements, through Bihar Agricultural Management & Extension Training Institute (BAMETI).

HarvestPlus will provide the village’s farmers with sufficient zinc wheat seed for up to 100 hectares of planting, organize demonstration workshops and market linkages, and provide subject matter experts to help train the farmers. The farmers will develop relevant skillsets and learn modern farming methods while learning to make farming more sustainable. 

The long-term goal of this program is to rethink and re-tool farming processes through environmentally friendly methods of farming and use of organic fertilisers. This initiative also looks at increasing the income and employability of smallholder farmers & agricultural laborers.

The agriculture minister thanked and praised the efforts of RDC and HarvestPlus India for their critical involvement in this novel initiative. He remarked that the rural poor are heavily dependent upon food grains for essential nutrients to maintain good health;  biofortified crops are able to meet this challenge and provide all essential nutrients to the rural poor.  

He also emphasized the importance of including biofortified grains in state-run public distribution programs, especially to address nutritional requirements among expectant mothers and infants.

According to this Hindustan Times article, the minister also said that cultivation of biofortified wheat would also be launched at another village in Gaya, the minister’s home town. “Farming of biofortified wheat, maize and other cereals like rice would be extended to other parts of the state upon successful completion of the pilot project in the two villages,” he was quoted as saying. 

HarvestPlus has operated in India for nearly nine years, in close collaboration with partners in the public and private sector to improve nutrition and public health by developing and promoting biofortified crops and building out biofortified seed and crop value chains. These biofortified crops—iron pearl millet, iron lentil and zinc wheat— boost the levels of much needed iron and zinc available in the diet, helping to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. The shared goal of HarvestPlus and our partners is to accelerate access to these nutritious crops and the foods made from them to boost food and nutrition security and improve lives.