The rise of the biofortified zinc-enriched wheat variety Akbar 2019 marks a significant milestone in Punjab’s agricultural landscape, emerging as the largest choice among wheat varieties. Spearheaded by HarvestPlus and its public, and private sector partners, this success story unveils the intricate web of efforts and collaborations that propelled Akbar 2019 to its status as the mega variety of Pakistan. With the aim to transform food systems with nutritious staple crops and foods, Akbar 2019 has been cultivated on 42 percent of the wheat cropping area of Pakistan in 2023-24 cropping season. The produce of this variety alone shall benefit over 97 million people to access affordable nutrition and improved livelihood. 

The journey of Akbar 2019 commenced with its identification through HarvestPlus micronutrient testing program and strategic investments in Early Generation Seed (EGS) production. HarvestPlus, in collaboration with public and private sector partners, facilitated the rapid scaling-up of this zinc-enriched wheat variety. A decade-long partnership with the Wheat Research Institute at Ayub Agriculture Research Institute, Faisalabad, underpinned the development and scaling of Akbar 2019.

The release of Akbar 2019 in the year 2019 marked the beginning of zinc wheat cultivation in Pakistan at a large scale. HarvestPlus provided important technical and financial support for the product launch event held in Faisalabad, which attracted participation of over 800 stakeholders. Through collaboration with seed companies and engagement with farmers, Akbar 2019 gained traction across the agricultural landscape.

“Akbar 2019 has been cultivated on nearly 42 percent of the wheat cropping area of Pakistan this year. The success is testament to over a decade long continued partnership with HarvestPlus” said by Dr. Javed Ahmad, director at Wheat Research Institute at Ayub Agriculture Research Institute, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

While recognizing the pivotal role of public and private sector seed companies, HarvestPlus embarked on capacity-strengthening initiatives to enhance the production and distribution of certified zinc-enriched wheat seed. Over 120 seed companies partnered with HarvestPlus, facilitating widespread adoption of Akbar 2019 and ensuring access to certified seed, even in the aftermath of natural disasters like the 2022 floods. Over 90,000 metric tons of certified seed of Akbar 2019 was planted during 2023-24 cropping season. The farm saved seed was in addition to this. 

Leveraging partnerships with Precision Development, followed by regular digital media campaigns, HarvestPlus reached millions of farmers and rural communities, fostering awareness and uptake of zinc-enriched wheat varieties. Collaborative efforts, including journalist training programs, value chain actors’ seminars, farmer field days, and demo plots, amplified the reach and impact of the demand creation initiatives.

The constructive collaboration between CIMMYT, National Agriculture Research System, and HarvestPlus underscored the development, and identification of zinc-enriched wheat varieties. HarvestPlus’ pivotal role in funding micronutrient testing and research activities facilitated the identification of biofortified wheat varieties from mainstream breeding, including Akbar 2019 and recently released Tarnab Rahbar and Tarnab Ghandum.

HarvestPlus advocacy efforts culminated in the integration of biofortified zinc-enriched wheat varieties into Punjab’s annual wheat production plan. The Punjab government’s inclusion of Akbar 2019 in seed subsidy programs exemplifies the tangible impact of policy advocacy in promoting the adoption of nutrient-rich wheat varieties.

The swift ascent of Akbar 2019, outpacing non-biofortified varieties, underscores the pivotal role of HarvestPlus programming in accelerating variety turnover at the farmer level. With the potential for future replacements, HarvestPlus remains instrumental in facilitating the rapid adoption of nutritious varieties, improved livelihood and advancing agricultural resilience.

The story of Akbar 2019 demonstrates a paradigm shift in wheat cultivation, where collaboration, innovation, and advocacy work together to address nutritional deficiencies and enhance agricultural sustainability. As the saga unfolds, HarvestPlus continues to spearhead initiatives that redefine the contours of agricultural development and nourish communities across Pakistan.