HarvestPlus donated 409 kg of biofortified bean seed to be distributed by Self-Help International, to 60 smallholder farmers of a cooperative in Moyogalpa and Altagracia, Nicaragua. Under normal circumstances, staff would deliver the seed directly to NGOs and farmer associations for cultivation. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, HarvestPlus teamed up with Self-Help International who have direct access to the farmers in remote areas and will distribute the seed to them efficiently. This will allow production of beans for consumption and a small percentage will be shared with more farmers to expand iron beans production.
Frijol Nutritivo y Rendidor, Frijol Biofortificado, and INTA BioApante are the names of the varieties that are being distributed across Nicaragua. These beans can provide up to 30% of the daily requirement of iron and 15% of zinc. Scientific research has shown that the amounts of these micronutrients found in healthy, diversified diets have a beneficial effect on the immune system’s ability to counter several but not all types of viruses. For example, in the case of zinc, in a recent review of this mineral’s role in antiviral immunity, Scott A. Read and co-authors note that “an abundance of evidence has accumulated over the last 50 years to demonstrate the antiviral activity of zinc against a variety of viruses, and via numerous mechanisms.”
COVID-19 has imposed changes on how HarvestPlus work all over the world. Under this new reality, HarvestPlus teamed up with Self-Help International who will distribute the seed in order to keep helping farmers to grow biofortified crops, explains Byron Reyes, HarvestPlus country coordinator of Nicaragua and Honduras:
“Today, we made our first seed donation in Nicaragua, under our new global COVID-19 reality. This is the culmination of exchanges we started in late 2019 with Self-Help International, who, as we, are interested in assisting small farmers. This is significant because we don’t have the resources to reach farmers directly, and this type of collaboration allows us to continue delivering the much-needed seed to give farmers access to varieties with better agronomic properties that also are more nutritious. This is extremely important during these difficult times as we are working to ensure food and nutrition security for the coming months.”
Anticipating the potential negative effect on food production of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year HarvestPlus plans to collaborate with NGOs to make high-quality bean seed available to farmers. This will be done in the two main crop seasons in both Nicaragua and Honduras, contributing to current efforts that are being made all over the region to support agriculture.
Biofortified crops are naturally achieved through field breeding and contain higher levels of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron and zinc. The biofortified beans available in Nicaragua are the outcome of many years of research developed by HarvestPlus and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and led in the country by the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology, INTA. Biofortified varieties are promoted to enable people to consume more nutritious varieties of their traditional foods such as maize, rice, beans, and sweet potatoes, strengthening their immune systems and guaranteeing health by consuming national, affordable, and low-cost products.