HarvestPlus and World Vision first collaborated in 2007 on the successful introduction of vitamin A orange sweet potato (OSP) in Mozambique, under the Reaching End Users project. The relationship quickly evolved into a genuine partnership that continues to thrive and is benefitting many thousands of people in Africa and Asia who are vulnerable to the serious health impacts of micronutrient deficiency, or “hidden hunger.” 

HarvestPlus and World Vision are able to generate more impact together by harnessing their respective skill sets, strengths, and networks. HarvestPlus brings its expertise in the development and delivery of biofortified crops, while World Vision leverages its deep experience in engaging the most vulnerable rural farming communities and helping improve their health and livelihood opportunities. The partnership is a way to effectively and sustainably reach farming families with nutritious biofortified crops. 

Addressing hidden hunger, together 

Hidden hunger refers to a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet that affects more than two billion people worldwide, diminishing their prospects for healthy and productive lives. It puts children and adults at increased risk of anemia, blindness, infectious diseases and even death. Hidden hunger also contributes to stunting and wasting among children.  Women and children are especially vulnerable to hidden hunger and its effects. 

The biofortified crops facilitated by HarvestPlus are developed through conventional (non-GMO) plant breeding methods; these crops are also high yielding and have other improved traits that farmers desire, such as drought tolerance and pest resistance. As of the end of 2019, about 8.5 million smallholder farming families were growing and eating biofortified crops worldwide. 

World Vision is a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. Guided by more than seven decades of experience and expertise, it employs effective development and relief practices to empower families and communities to overcome poverty and improve their lives.

Both HarvestPlus and World Vision recognized early on that collaboration between them and with a broad swath of stakeholders was crucial to sustainably scale up biofortification. In tandem with other proven strategies—dietary diversity, fortification, and supplementation—their mutual goal has been to improve nutritional status, incomes, and health outcomes for vulnerable households, especially among those most at risk of micronutrient deficiencies. 

Collaborating across multiple countries

In Uganda, under two successive projects funded since 2011 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), HarvestPlus and World Vision have been expanding the reach of vitamin A OSP and iron-biofortified beans; in 2019, nearly 960,000 Ugandan smallholder households—with almost 4.7 million household members—were growing OSP, while 695,000 households (nearly 3.4 million people) were growing iron beans.

The partners are also working together in Tanzania, Bangladesh, and Kenya under the Enhancing Nutrition Services to Improve Maternal and Child Health in Africa and Asia (ENRICH) program, described in more detail below. ENRICH is funded by Global Affairs Canada.  “The ENRICH program promotes OSP, high iron beans, and zinc rice in project sites in Kenya, Bangladesh, and Tanzania. The crops are well received by the communities and the demand for vines, seeds, and technical support is increasing over the years,” said Dr. Asrat Dibaba, Chief of Party for the ENRICH Program at World Vision Canada. “There is also improved knowledge on the benefits of consumption of these corps among primary caretakers of children under 5 years of age.” 

A strengthened partnership

While the partners had already been collaborating for several years, HarvestPlus and World Vision signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2014, reflecting their strong commitment to work continue to work together. The MoU’s main objective was “to advance the dissemination of biofortified crops as a food-based solution to micronutrient deficiency.” Through this partnership, WV progressively increased the number of countries with programs integrating biofortified crops. An extension of the MoU was signed at the Micronutrient Forum in 2016.

“This is a win-win relationship. World Vision’s long-held experience supporting vulnerable communities, and the networks they have established among these communities, greatly facilitate our engagement in the field,” said Arun Baral, Chief Executive Officer of HarvestPlus. “The biofortified crops allow World Vision and HarvestPlus to add a practical, cost-effective nutrition intervention to their common health and livelihoods approach.” 

Tom Davis, World Vision’s Partnership Leader for Health and Nutrition said: “World Vision has committed $7 billion USD to scaling up maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health and nutrition interventions in 100 countries around the world between 2019 and 2030. Through this collaboration with HarvestPlus on the ENRICH project, we are discovering important lessons and innovations that we can scale through the 149,000 Community Health Workers with whom we work globally.  We are thrilled and humbled to be part of this collaborative work.” 

The ENRICH Project: Improving both nutrition and livelihoods 

The five-year, multi-country ENRICH program was launched in 2016 and has focused on reducing maternal and child mortality through directly addressing malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of life (conception to 24 months). World Vision Canada (WVC), Nutrition International (NI), and the Canadian Society for International Health are the implementing partners for the project in Kenya, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. HarvestPlus is the technical partner for biofortification in all countries except Myanmar. The University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health is an independent evaluator of the program. 

The ENRICH project is a prime example of how HarvestPlus and World Vision Canada have been able to create synergies in the field to generate more impact for vulnerable smallholder farming families, targeting more than two million people. The ultimate outcome has been to reduce maternal and child mortality by ensuring equitable access to essential health and nutrition services. The “Health Systems Strengthening” approach has resulted in improved access, quality, and utilization of care at community- and lower-level health facility, in addition to supporting national guideline development and inclusion of nutrition indicators at higher levels. 

ENRICH has implemented multi-sectoral gender-responsive interventions in a community-based care approach, which has contributed to the prevention of 680 child deaths. ENRICH achieved successes in gender equality as 95,000 men and male youth have been trained in a MenCare model (which was developed by Promundo but adapted to meet program objectives), which promotes gender-equal relations, male involvement in pre- and post-natal care and nutrition, and tackles cultural and gender norms that perpetuate devaluation of girls and women.   

Bangladesh: Reaching farmers with zinc rice

The ENRICH program in Bangladesh aims to reach more than 400,000 target beneficiaries. To increase the availability of micronutrient supplements and diversified nutrient-dense foods including biofortified crops for women, girls, boys, and men, the project is undertaking a number of activities, including training in the production of biofortified crops and sensitizing farmers, community leaders including religious leaders, and households on nutrient-dense crops.

Thousands of farming families in the northwest district of Thakurgaon, Bangladesh, have been introduced to cultivation of zinc-biofortified rice varieties through the ENRICH program. The consumption of zinc biofortified rice reduces disease frequency in children, increases appetite, and reduces gastrointestinal diseases. About 36 percent of children under five in Bangladesh are zinc-deficient, making them vulnerable to stunting and a loss of appetite, lower immunity, and increased risk of diarrheal disease and respiratory infections. To date, five open-pollinated zinc rice varieties have been released by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and are already available to farmers to plant during either the Aman (monsoon) or Boro (dry) seasons.

The zinc rice introduced in Thakurgaon attracted the interest of neighboring farmers outside the project area, who requested seeds from the project participants to start their own production. After the harvest, some farmers store a portion of their zinc rice for seeds and sell and/or exchange the rest with other interested farmers.

Hamidul Islam lives with his family of eight in Thakurgaon. He became a beneficiary of the ENRICH project in 2016 and has been growing biofortified zinc rice since then. When he first cultivated the seed on his land, he managed to harvest about 720 kilograms (kg) of rice. He reserved about 680 kg for family consumption and kept the remaining 40 kg as seed for the following year’s cultivation, though his neighboring farmers ended up buying half of his seed stock, reflecting their strong interest in the new rice variety.  

In 2019-20, Hamidul cultivated BRRI dhan74 seed on his land which yielded him about 8.29 ton per hectare. “This season I kept a higher percentage of the harvest for my family’s consumption because this zinc biofortified rice provides important nutrition to my children and grandchildren,” said Hamidul. 

Hamidul and his family are also encouraging their neighbors and others in the community to replace the non-biofortified variety of rice with zinc-biofortified rice in their meals to improve the health of their children. The nutritious rice is consumed in many forms in their daily diet: popped rice, puffed rice, beaten rice, rice cake, and more. In Hamidul’s village, about 60 percent of the farming families are now cultivating zinc rice, and the number is increasing every season. 

As of June 2020, more than 47,000 farming families in Bangladesh had received biofortified zinc rice seed through ENRICH, and on average, the amount of zinc rice produced by each farming household was equivalent to eight months of rice supplies for an average Bangladeshi family. The ENRICH project has an extended target of reaching more than 92,000 rice farmers with biofortified zinc rice by the project end date in March 2021.

The zinc rice program in Thakurgaon has been praised by local officials for its nutrition and livelihood benefits. Anisur Rahman, a District Agriculture Officer, said the variety grown is well-suited to the local soil and its shorter growing cycle means lower production costs for farmers. Maodudul Islam, the Deputy Director of the Department of Agricultural Extension in Thakurgaon, said farmers are able to add a cash crop such as potato between rice seasons, creating new livelihood opportunities. 

Tanzania: Improving nutrition through sweet potato nurseries

Monique and Pascal are extension officers who manage an OSP nursery in the Shinyanga district of Tanzania. They have developed the nursery into a viable source of income for their family and plan on expanding the business. 

Monique received specialized training from HarvestPlus and the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI) through the ENRICH program on how to run a sweet potato nursery. Monique supervised a primary nursery in the Manyara region where she gained first-hand knowledge of operations and maintenance.  

As an extension officer in Shinyanga district, Monique went on to organize secondary seed multipliers to multiply vines. She leased some land and multiplied more vines for herself. These secondary vine multipliers sold their vines to farmers, the ENRICH project, and other development programs operating in the country. There was so much demand that they could not meet it. The multipliers also earned handsome returns on the sale of these vines. 

Monique did not stop at vine multiplication; she went on to produce OSP tubers which she sells in markets as far away as Dodoma, the national capital, and Dar es Salaam. 

Speaking about the experience, she said: “The training from the ENRICH program is rewarding as it provided a source of income for so many people in my community through the OSP nurseries, and it also provided nutritious potatoes that the kids enjoyed.”

Monique plans to scale up the nursery she is managing and invest more in the multiplication operation in the next season. Her leadership and her work also inspired other extension officers to set up nurseries as businesses in their respective areas, using their own resources. This ripple effect is precisely what the program aims to achieve: nurseries that become commercially viable and self-sustaining. 

As of March 2020, seven primary and 38 secondary sweet potato vine nurseries have been established through the program and they all remain active. These sites were used as platforms to strengthen the capacity of 60 government extension workers on sweet potato production.  

This result was well-received by the government and is seen as a crucial sustainability pillar for the continued production of improved sweet potato varieties. Both primary and secondary sweet potato nurseries received start-up vines and training from TARI. More than 12,000 new households have been reached so far with OSP vines, which is 62 percent of the target for the year 2020. 

Kenya: A champion in the County Of Champions

Hellen Maina is a Community Health Volunteer in Keiyo South in Marakwet County (also known as the County of Champions), in the North Rift Valley of Kenya. She was introduced to biofortification by the ENRICH program, which provided her with vitamin A OSP vines. The ENRICH program in Kenya aims to deliver OSP alongside biofortified beans. The project is achieving this through partnership between HarvestPlus, World Vision, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KARLO) in Kitale, and the Elgeyo Marakwet County Government.

In Kenya, 60,000 farming families are receiving more than 30 million OSP cuttings through the program’s 39 community nurseries. Hellen received specialized training on how to grow the sweet potatoes. She then received and planted 1500 vines of a variety called Kenspot4, to grow on about a quarter of an acre. Since the season was a little dry, she irrigated her sweet potatoes with water from a nearby spring. Currently, Hellen has harvested, consumed, and sold more than 450 kg of OSP.

As a champion, and as one of the pioneers of producing biofortified products in her area, she has incorporated the production of OSP into her work routine. This has made more than 140 households, 34 community health volunteers, and 2 schools (with about 300 students each) richer and healthier from eating the potatoes and from her teachings of the health benefits. 

While the community around Hellen was benefiting from her knowledge, she also made some significant income from her farming—KSH 13000 (about 120 USD) from the quarter of an acre by selling the OSP tubers. She has also earned income from selling the vines. This income has enabled her to pay school fees for her two children and contributed towards daily family expenses. 

Hellen is very happy with her earnings as she says that no alternative crops (onion, beetroot, or maize) that are grown in the area could have given her that much income. A fact that another farmer Samson Kigen Chelagat confirmed.

Being the champion that she is, Hellen received training on value addition and made other products from the OSP like chapatti and mandazi which she sells to the community from her shop. She also wants to introduce sweet potato porridge to the elementary school children in her area so that the children may have meals that are more nutritious at school. 

Hellen says that in addition to providing good income, the crop is also cheap to produce. She cannot meet local demand, including requests from middlemen who want to trade the OSP in other towns. Her wish is to see more farmers in the county growing and consuming biofortified crops.

Scaling up through partnership

The ENRICH Program itself highlights the importance of leveraging partnerships: it was recognized on International Women’s Day 2019 with the CanWaCH Partnership Award from the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH). The award is given to individuals or organizations that have demonstrated notable contributions to Canada’s advancement of global health for women and children while effectively showcasing the power of partnership in their work.

Indeed, partnering with World Vision in projects like ENRICH has allowed HarvestPlus to continue its mission of efficiently delivering biofortified crops to thousands of farming households, especially reaching vulnerable women and children, who will benefit from these crops’ important nutritional attributes. The partners look forward to continuing this impactful work.

“As awareness of biofortified crops and their health impacts increase, demand is also equally increasing. There are still large numbers of families to be reached with this intervention,” said ENRICH Chief of Party, Asrat Dibaba. “We also need to ensure sustainability and local ownership of promotion of biofortification. World Vision aims to continue working with Harvestplus to meet these goals through a potential phase II of the ENRICH program,” Dibaba added.