Zimbabwe has become the latest African country to move toward making biofortified nutritious crops widely available to farmers and consumers. On August 18, 2016, the Zimbabwean Government officially launched widespread distribution and marketing of biofortified crop seeds under a project implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). HarvestPlus is a strategic partner and technical advisor to the project.

Two biofortified crops—vitamin A orange maize, and iron and zinc beans—have already been released, with seeds expected to be available across the country in readiness for the 2016/2017 planting season. Farmers in the country can now access one variety of the orange maize and two of the iron and zinc beans, but will soon have more to choose from when varieties already in the pipeline are released.

The launch event in the capital, Harare, brought together representatives from governmental and non-governmental sectors, including the ministries of agriculture and health, seed companies, and the private sector–all critical to the reach and impact of biofortified crops in Zimbabwe.

At least one in five Zimbabwean children under the age of five suffers from vitamin A deficiency, and one in every three children lacks enough iron and zinc. These deficiencies increase their risks of illness and compromise their growth and development. In her speech on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, the head of the country’s national agricultural research system, Danisile Hikwa, noted the “robust evidence that consumption of biofortified food crops improves nutritional status.”

Zimbabwe joins a growing list of countries in Africa that have adopted biofortified crops and released them to farmers, including Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. More than three million households in these and other countries on the continent are growing and consuming the nutritious crops.

The biofortified maize and beans in Zimbabwe are being promoted under the Zimbabwe Livelihood Food Security Programme (LFSP) funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). In addition to improving nutrition, the program aims to increase agricultural productivity, incomes and food security, while reducing poverty in rural Zimbabwe.

View photos from the launch event, courtesy of FAO.

*Featured image: Zimbabwean women farmers exhibiting vitamin A maize and iron beans. Photo credit: A. Ubomba-Jaswa/HarvestPlus