The 2016/17 Promotion Season for high nutrient seed varieties was launched in style at Prime Seed Co Stapleford Trial site on 22 August 2016. This occasion was graced by the Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr. Parirenyatwa and the Principal Director in the Department of Research and Specialist Service, Mrs. Hikwa representing the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development, Dr. Made who was the guest of honor. Also gracing this occasion was Her Excellency from the embassy of Malawi. The technical officers from the two government Ministries, FAO staff, the Livelihood Food Security Programme (LFSP), DFID, Seed Producing companies that include Prime Seed Co and Zimbabwe Super Seeds, and Farmers from Silobela who joined forces as they celebrated a milestone in the fight against micronutrient deficiencies.
Micronutrient malnutrition, also known as hidden hunger continues to be a burden of public health concern as revealed by national data. The Micronutrient Survey of 2012 showed alarming micronutrient deficiencies of vitamin A, iron, zinc and folate. The FAO Food Balance Sheets suggest the typical Zimbabwean diet is deeply deficient in vitamins and minerals required for health, development and survival.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care through the National Nutrition Department has put in place various strategies to address micronutrient deficiencies. These include food fortification, vitamin and mineral supplementation, promotion of dietary diversity and biofortification. The Food Fortification strategy was launched in 2015 and is at the implementation stage with industries commencing voluntary fortification for sugar, cooking oil, maize meal and wheat flour with vitamins A, D, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, iron and zinc. Vitamin A supplementation for children under five as well as iron and folate supplementation for women of child bearing age is being practiced nationally.
Biofortification involves production of high nutrient seed varieties through conventional methods such as cross breeding. It can also be used to improve other traits such as high yield, increased pest and disease resistance and drought tolerance. Biofortification as an intervention will cover a large percentage of the Zimbabwean population as most people consume what they grow particularly the rural population. This intervention will complement other interventions to ensure optimum coverage provision of adequate amounts of micronutrients to prevent deficiencies.
The launch of the promotion season for vitamin A-rich maize, high iron and zinc beans was significant in that it showed how government is determined to eradicate hunger and malnutrition led by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture. This clearly demonstrates a multisectoral approach in promoting food security and nutrition with involvement of the private sector, Prime SeedCo and Zimbabwe Super Seeds Company. Support from the UN sector through FAO and various donors; DFID, Harvest Plus and UK Aid augmented these efforts to ensure Food and Nutrition Security is attained among the population.
In the end, the idea of Public-Private Partnership was shown to work well in our current situation where resources are limited. Every stakeholder had a role to play in the success of this event and the ongoing Biofortification program. Ministry of health and Child Care provided data through national surveys that identified the micronutrient burden in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation and Development and Harvest Plus took the necessary measures of employing nutrition-sensitive agriculture approaches by developing breeds of vitamin A-rich orange maize seed and bean seed varieties high in iron and zinc through extensive research trials. FAO through supporting the Livelihood Food Security Programme (LFSP), a program concerned primarily in the achievement of food security in Zimbabwean communities adopted the concept of Biofortification working with small holder farmers in Manicaland, Midlands and Mashonaland Central. DFID is sponsoring LFSP therefore it shares similar sentiments in the success of the promotion of high nutrient crop varieties. The The CEO of DFID, Ms Anable encouraged other seed companies to adopt other high nutrient content seed varieties that are in the pipeline for release. The role of the Private sector represented by Prime Seed Co and Zimbabwe Super Seeds, is to scale up the project and ensure sustainability because the sector has capacity to produce and market the seed varieties at a large scale. At the launch these companies utilized various platforms to effectively market their seed varieties.
Highlights of the Launch-
Farmers all the way from Silobela exhibited their produce of high iron beans and vitamin A-rich orange maize. The farmers displayed sound knowledge of the crops and good marketing skills. They applauded these varieties for their drought resistance and high yield.
Orange sadza was included in the menu much to the excitement and enthusiasm of the attendance. General comments from launch participants showed that the orange sadza was well accepted. Some mothers indicated that their children prefer the orange sadza to the regular white sadza. Empty plates confirmed that participants enjoyed the healthy, nutritious vitamin A-rich orange sadza.
A moment of fun when the dignitaries of the occasion participated in a blindfold tasting of both regular white sadza and vitamin A-rich orange sadza and state which they preferred. The results showed that 60% preferred the vitamin A-rich orange sadza while only 40% preferred the regular white sadza.
We might have won the battle for this season as most farmers are expected to grow these high nutrient maize and seed varieties but the war against hidden huger continues. It is our hope that more key players come onboard to strengthen and support efforts being made to fight micronutrient deficiencies through promotion of high nutrient seed varieties.