After being heavily impacted by the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it, farming households in the east-southern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are fighting back and resuming their normal activities.

HarvestPlus DRC, in collaboration with partners, is striving to reach vulnerable communities with naturally nutritious biofortified crops and food products. After three months of disruption starting in March, HarvestPlus resumed activities that include variety selection, field days on demonstration plots, seed warehousing and marketing, and training and sensitization. In addition, farmers are being coached on integrated soil fertility management to raise awareness about the best agricultural technologies as well as available biofortified iron bean and vitamin A maize varieties. 

In May 2020, the process of variety selection was carried out in two locations in Tanganyika and four locations in South Kivu, with more than 600 participants including farmers, extension services, scientists, and local authorities. After harvesting, seed was collected from contracted farmers. Then it was processed and warehoused to ensure quality during storage until it was ready to be distributed to farmers, or marketed before planting season.     

In July 2020, a training workshop on seed agribusiness was organized with support from the programme integré de croissance agricole dans la region des grands lacs (PICAGL), which is funded by the World Bank, and through a project with Mercy Corps that is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). HarvestPlus is implementing the PICAGL work under agreements between the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to promote biofortified maize and beans in Tanganyika and South Kivu Provinces. About 65 participants representing seed growers, cooperatives, NGOs, agro dealers, and food processors were trained on competitive seed enterprises or agribusiness. The main objective was to build their technical and managerial capacity in terms to help them to improve the quality of seed production and their marketing ability in competitive, informal, and formal seed systems. 

The trainers included the HarvestPlus DRC country manager, a seed system speciliast from the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), the national coordinator of the National Seed Service (SENASEM), scientists from the National Institute of Agricultural Research and Studies (INERA), a manager of the Commercial Bank (BCDC), and a lawyer.

The main topics included technical and managerial skills for the seed business, national and international seed regulation procedures, seed marketing and promotion, access to land and financing, as well as competing in the market and counterfeiting.

Sensitization campaigns were organized successively in the Kabare, Idjwi, Kalehe, and Walungu Territories of South Kivu province, and more than 970 farming households were reached. The objective was to inform and sensitize both producers and consumers about the agronomic and nutritional value of vitamin A-biofortified maize and iron-biofortified bean seed and food products made from them. 

During these campaigns, farmers learned about different biofortified seed, processed and unprocessed foods products, and promotional materials.  This allowed farmers and consumers to buy seed or receive free samples of food products. More than 15,000 kilograms (kg) of biofortified bean seed and 4,000 kg of biofortified maize seed was sold directly to farmers. 

Makamba Kabara, the wife of a local leader (the Mwami Kabare), is leading an association of women farmers. She said, “Farmers are happy to access quality seed at affordable prices, at the right time and right next to their farms. They don’t have to put their safety at risk as this helps them avoid travel for long distances to sell their products or to buy seed as well as other products.”

These campaigns were organized in collaboration with the local government, traditional leaders, extension services, seed growers, property owners, farmers associations, and civil society.  

In addition to the sensitization campaigns, HarvestPlus and partners engaged three media channels: the official national radio and television of DRC (RTNC), the private Radio Maendeleo, and the community Gorilla Radio; and they are now broadcasting weekly programs about biofortified crops and food products available to communities. Through these channels, Harvestplus is reaching more than 384,000 people.  

Through public awareness campaigns, HarvestPlus also leverages the power of mass media and local icons, including music stars, to educate Congolese on micronutrient deficiencies and the benefits of biofortified cassava, maize, and beans. HarvestPlus aims to reach 4 million Congolese farming households with nutritious biofortified crops by 2022.