HarvestPlus is joining forces with Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) in a new partnership to expand the reach of nutritious zinc-biofortified wheat in Pakistan by leveraging mobile communications to engage progressive and smallholder farmers. 

PAD supports smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries by providing customized agricultural information and services through mobile devices. Recent statistics show that 47 percent of Pakistanis have a mobile phone, or have access to one through friends or family.  

Working with PAD, HarvestPlus has designed a project to target Pakistani farmers in specific areas where seeds will be available and readily accessible. About 100,000 farmers will receive text messages on their mobile phones about the signs of and risks posed by zinc deficiency, the agronomic and nutritional benefits of zinc wheat, and the commercial benefits of zinc wheat to them, as well as information about the market for their surplus harvest where possible.  Farmers will also receive a helpline number to call for more information and details.  For those who do not have access to a mobile device, messages are expected to spread through community organizations, influential farmers and farmer organizations. 

This project and the messages to be sent to farmers are approved by the Government of Punjab, Department of Agriculture Southern Punjab, which plays a critical role in ensuring the smooth functioning of the agricultural system in Pakistan.  Working hand in hand with government officials, PAD and HarvestPlus will bridge the gap between the public and private sector by linking farmers to seed providers. This project also facilitates the use of seed diffusion where farmers pass on seeds to their friends and family but also private sector seed sales when farmers and larger growers are looking for the latest and best varieties.  

Mobile technology holds the potential to make smallholder farmer engagement far more efficient; the current COVID-19 pandemic, with resulting restrictions on movement and meetings, have heightened the resolve of HarvestPlus to leverage mobile and other cost-effective tools to reach more farmers and others along seed and food value chains. 

Even before the onset of COVID-19, HarvestPlus was investigating ways to reach farmers more efficiently. HarvestPlus has a network of technical experts and partners in areas from standards creation, digital training solutions, supply chain integrity with blockchain, and the latest farm management techniques. At an event in January 2020, the experts presented several solutions to the biggest barriers to scaling biofortification, including preserving supply chain integrity and reaching more people through digital media. 

For the past 15 years, HarvestPlus’ interactions with farmers has been largely face to face, in collaboration with outreach and extension services. One of our most successful engagement tactics have been farmer training days and presentations to farmer communities.    

Wolfgang Pfeiffer, HarvestPlus Director of Research and Development and Director for Asia, recalls one particular meeting in India where he was able to address about 7000 farmers at one time. However, there are logistical challenges to this approach, including the time and expense involved, and the current COVID-19 environment renders it impossible in any event.   

In the Pakistan project, HarvestPlus and PAD will be able to track the specific reach and delivery of the mobile messages against subsequent farmer-reported seed transactions to demonstrate the project’s impact and return on investment. The project is launching during the 2020 rabi wheat season (the second sowing season from October through December, which is harvested in April through May) and continue for roughly six months through March 2021 across several districts of the Punjab province. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom is funding the project.