The state governments of Bihar and Odisha have both made major commitments to scale up production and consumption of zinc-biofortified wheat and rice to help address malnutrition generally, and stunting rates in particular.  In 2020, the first zinc-biofortified wheat variety (Rajendra-Gehun-3) was released for cultivation in Bihar.

The Bihar and Odisha Nutrition Initiative (BONI) project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched in 2017 when the Government of Bihar included biofortification in its third Agriculture Roadmap (2017-22). By the next year, HarvestPlus and its research partners had begun testing zinc wheat varieties across three agro-climatic zones of that state. The operations in Odisha started in July 2021.

Under BONI, HarvestPlus is strengthening and leveraging the capacities and experience of a diverse range of stakeholders to establish a sustainable system of production and consumption of nutrient-rich, biofortified crops in the two states. This is achieved through a network of public-private partnerships, and by strengthening those partnerships over time through a project stakeholder advisory committee, extensive research with partners, and establishing evidence and credibility for biofortified food products.

The program has already made significant progress, particularly in crop development, crop promotion, value chain enhancement, and policy advocacy.

Crop Development

The key aim of the BONI project is to develop locally adapted, high yielding, and nutritious crops like zinc wheat, zinc rice, and iron and zinc lentils. The Rajendra-Gehun-3 variety is already being cultivated in Bihar. Another biofortified zinc wheat variety, Rajendra-Gehun-4 (BHU-31), is expected to be released during 2021. The development and testing of biofortified rice varieties such as Sabour Aayush(IR84275), and DRR Dhan 49 started during the kharif season (production season July-October) of 2021. Biofortified lentil varieties, namely Pusa Ageti and IPL-220, are also in the pipeline for testing.      

Promotion & Value Chain Intervention

Another key objective of HarvestPlus is to promote biofortified varieties to create demand for seed and grains by households to improve food and nutrition security. To achieve this, Harvestplus is partnering with several public, private, and civil society groups to strengthen value chains.

Currently, HarvestPlus is engaging with 65 market actors, including seed producers and distributors, digital platforms, buyers, research institutions, and public sector institutions across zinc wheat and zinc rice value chains. So far, 17,584 crop demonstrations have beenconducted in Bihar and 1,676 metric tons of zinc wheat seed (covering 500 hectares when planted) have been produced and marketed by private seed companies. 

The project is helping farmers access markets for their biofortified gain by engaging with private sector food players to promote procurement of grains for value-added products. For example, Delhi-based Aarti Mills is procuring biofortified wheat grain from farmers to market zinc wheat flour to urban consumers under the brand name of City King Chakki Atta.

Policy Advocacy for Better Uptake

Under the BONI project, HarvestPlus also works on helping to advance policy reforms that support and incentivize the production and consumption of biofortified crops in Bihar and Odisha. As a result of efforts with advocacy partners, Bihar State Seed Corporation (BRBN) has started producing 2100 tons of certified zinc wheat seed using its own resources. HarvestPlus has also collaborated with the Government of Bihar to establish the country’s first “Nutritional Village” model. Nutritional villages  will demonstrate a holistic farming model for biofortified crops that optimizes nutrition for farming families and also promotes ecological resilience. 

In addition, the Chief Minister Rapid Seed Extension Programme now offers a 50 percent subsidy on zinc wheat seeds. The programme provides high yielding varieties of seeds for rabi crops (October-March season) to farmers at highly subsidized rates. The programme is expected to boost agricultural production of all crops, especially rabi crops, and help Bihar state address an acute shortage of high- yielding seed varieties.

HarvestPlus is currently engaging with the Department of Food and Nutrition at Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural Universityand the Ministry of Women and Child Developmenton the development of a Nutri-mix product line. Nutri-mix products (e.g., Balshakti, Paushtik Laddu, Sattu Laddu and other products) are health supplements made with biofortified crops (zinc wheat, zinc rice, and iron lentils) along with locally available nutrient rich foods, which are developed to satisfy the nutritional requirements of children ages 1-6 years, and women of reproductive age.

HarvestPlus is also partnering with State Rural Livelihood Mission (JEEViKA) to implement a biofortified value chain intervention with women-owned Farmer Producer Companies.  A Farmer Producer Company (FPC) is registered under the Companies Act 2013 and formed by primary producers such as farmers, milk producers, and fishermen. FPCs help spur economic development at the grassroots level by providing an opportunity for members to pool their produce and share the profits in the form of dividends. 

The Numbers Tell the Story 

Table 1: The Impact of BONI (2018-2020)
Key Metrics201820192020
Zinc wheat seed production (in MT)171685820
Farming households reached in Bihar 5,56517,76738,392
Partners engaged in the project335465

(Source: BONI Project Monitoring & Evaluation Report)

The data in Table 1 show that the total number of partners* for HarvestPlus nearly doubled from 2018-2020. Over the last three years, HarvestPlus’ biofortified crops have been made available to more households as the BONI project continues to engage with new partners in Bihar and Odisha. Active collaboration with new partners has had an overall positive impact on BONI as it has allowed for a significant increase in zinc wheat seed production, and consequently, an increase in the total number of households reached.