Zinc deficiency is a major cause of stunted brain development and child mortality in countries where rural families cannot afford zinc-rich foods like eggs, meat, fish, or fruits. Diarrhea, malaria, and lower respiratory infections are all exacerbated by this lack of zinc.
Almost 20 percent of zinc deficiency deaths globally occur in India, where HarvestPlus has been working with partners in the public, private, research, and civil society sectors to combat this crisis. Research conducted in India has demonstrated that children who eat bread made of biofortified zinc wheat suffer fewer days of illness. The shared goal of HarvestPlus and our partners is to accelerate access to these nutritious crops and the foods made from them.
The good news: Zinc wheat is now reaching more nutritionally vulnerable people, including in the Indian state of Bihar, where zinc deficiency has contributed to the highest stunting levels in India. Thanks to the leadership of the national and state government, the commitment of numerous partners, and the generous investment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, improved varieties of zinc wheat have now been formally launched in farming communities where they are needed the most.
Over the past year, HarvestPlus’ partners, including lead farmers, seed companies, and NGOs, have been testing and evaluating new varieties of zinc wheat, knwon as BHU-31 and BHU-25, to ensure that they will perform well in different agro-climatic zones of Bihar. The results of these trials have laid the groundwork for larger-scale adoption in Bihar, where zinc wheat is expected to reach more than one million farming households in the next five years.
HarvestPlus and numerous partners formally commercialized and launched these two zinc wheat varieties at recent events in the Buxar and Gaya districts of Bihar. One of our partners, Ratnagiri Seeds & Farm, hosted these events and launched these varieties as RSF-31 and RSF-25. At each launch, about 500 farmers gathered to hear from their counterparts who had tested the wheat and to receive bags of the new seed to grow on their own farms.
Guest speakers at the events included District Agricultural Officers from the Ministry of Agriculture; agricultural extension experts from the Indian Council on Agricultural Research; and representatives of the Bihar State Seed Certification Agency; Integrated Child Development Services; Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; the All India Seed Producers Association; Bihar Agricultural University; seed producers; and food processing companies.
While these speakers came from a broad array of backgrounds, each presenter shared a common message: This new zinc wheat has the potential to improve the health and livelihoods of their fellow citizens. The events culminated with the launch of a mobile van that will tour villages on a regular basis to promote adoption of these new varieties throughout Bihar.