SIRP holds policy dialogue… stakeholders call for scale up

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SIRP holds policy dialogue… stakeholders call for scale up

  • Posted by: Precious Nkomo
20240417 101203

The Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme (SIRP) recently held a policy dialogue, where stakeholders called for the scaling up of the intervention. The Permanent Secretary for Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Professor Obert Jiri said government remained committed to the biofortification intervention and it remained one of the key deliverables in the Ministry.
Professor Jiri emphasized the need to ensure both the availability of adequate quantities and acceptable quality of biofortified crops to satisfy expected health dimensions. He added that 30 other countries had already adopted the intervention and Zimbabwe, as part of the family of nations was committed to the cause.
The Permanent Secretary noted that the Ministry recently reviewed the fortification policy and considerable in-roads had been made by the Ministry and Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme (SIRP) in promoting biofortification interventions. SIRP had introduced the intervention to 30 schools where promotion of biofortified products through demo plots, cooking demonstrations, capacity building, use of drama and videos was ongoing.
Addressing the same meeting, Mr Franscesco Rispoli, the Country Director for Zimbabwe and Eswatini, said the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aimed to promote sustainable agriculture and food systems and these issues were at the heart of IFAD’s mandate, targeting people in rural areas. Mr Rispoli emphasized the role of women in nutrition and agriculture and added that nutrition was being mainstreamed in an estimated 60% of IFAD projects, with SIRP making its contribution through various nutrition interventions that included biofortification. Though support from the NORAD grant, SIRP aimed to improve diets at household level and there was need for policy support for biofortification to ensure its sustainability, he said. Mr Rispoli also called for further research, leveraging on the available expertise, focusing on biofortified varieties and ensuring the availability and affordability of seeds to farmers.
During the dialogue, a Ministry of Health and Child Care official, Mr Arden Njovo highlighted the current challenges resulting from micro-nutrient deficiencies and shared some of effects noted this far and these included;
• 1.5 million people suffer from iron deficiency which affected their performance in the workplace
• Some deficiencies which had resulted in disabilities
• 20% of maternal deaths were attributed to iron deficiency
• 75% of children under the age of 5 were iron deficient
• Deficiencies were noted as one of the causes of intellectual impairments among children.
He noted that current interventions to deal with the challenge included the medical route through supplements as well as commercial biofortification, where micro-nutrients were added to selected food items during processing. However, these were not sustainable on their own as most rural communities grew their own food and did not access most retail products.
Through the Department of Research and Specialist Services, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, had produced and availed 13 biofortified field seeds which were being marketed through seed companies. The department had so far released seeds that included iron beans, pearl millet, orange maize and orange fleshed sweet potatoes. Identified advantages of biofortified seeds were that they are climate smart and resulted in improved nutrition for communities.
However, rural communities had restricted access to biofortified products, despite their need for these products with only 6% of smallholder farmers having knowledge of these while only 3% had adopted and planted them. The department was promoting the new crop varieties through on-field trials and demos, seed fairs, trade fairs and field days, agricultural shows and pamphlets (seed descriptors). The department had also introduced campaigns to schools where Government had approved the use of biofortified crops for school feeding programmes in Mutasa, Nyanga, Chimanimani, Masvingo, Gokwe South, Shurugwi, Kwekwe, Mt Darwin and Bindura.
Lessons learnt for the successful adoption of biofortified crops were drawn from Pakistan which promoted wheat fortified with iron while Rwanda had successfully promoted iron beans with consumption increasing to 8 million following its introduction in 2010. Key success factor noted included the adoption of quality varieties, reliable supply of quality seeds, food industry participation, integration into government policy, incorporation in public procurement and the use of advertising promotions. Recommendations from the dialogues included the need to increase production of biofortified crops through introducing them as part of the seed issued out by government to subsistence farmers, use of state farms owned by ARDA, agricultural colleges, including its cultivation as part of the mandate of extension services, ensuring that adequate seeds were available, introducing biofortified crops as part of the schools feeding programmes as well as ensuring public procurement policies were reviewed to ensure that institutions were able to buy biofortified crops. There were also calls for the increased awareness of biofortified products through radio and other outreach programmes to ensure that communities, especially women had access to information of the products.
The first batch of biofortified iron beans, were released in 2010 while orange maize was released in 2009. The department had released NUA45, NUA674, Jasmine and S Violet beans as well as 5 maize varieties. An additional 3 were still being developed. Two varieties of sweet potatoes, Delvia and Alisha had also been released onto the market. Biofortified pearl millet was also being bred in partnership with Harvest Plus and the Institute of Crop Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
The event was attended by officials from the Ministries of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Health and Child Care, Primary and Secondary Education, Labour and Social Development as well as academic institutions such as the University of Zimbabwe. Harvest Plus, a development partner that has spearheaded the biofortification campaign in the country and globally also attended to share its experiences.

20240417 101203

Author: Precious Nkomo

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