This Precision Development project focused on raising awareness about the benefits of zinc biofortified wheat seeds that are more climate resilient as well as being more nutritious as compared to traditional seed varieties.
Malnutrition is a longstanding challenge in Pakistan with stark and debilitating effects for affected families. During the 2020-2021 Rabi season, the Precision in Development (PxD) programme hosted at CERP partnered with HarvestPlus, a programme of CGIAR, to promote two varieties of zinc-biofortified wheat seeds in five districts of Punjab province, Pakistan.
Rigorous prevalence studies are limited, however available information suggests widespread zinc deficiency among children in Pakistan: more than one third of preschool-aged children and more than half of primary school children were assessed to be zinc deficient. While data is limited, studies also suggest an alarming rate of zinc deficiency among pregnant women, which may contribute to Pakistan’s poor infant and maternal mortality rates. Pakistan has the most wheat intensive diets in the world and the crop is critical for smallholder communities’ livelihoods and food security. The Zincol-16 and Akbar-19 biofortified wheat varieties developed for the Pakistani market contain up to 26 percent and 30 percent more zinc than traditional wheat varieties. Given that smallholder farmers consume up to 60% of their wheat harvest, the adoption of zinc-biofortified seed by smallholders would have positive implications for the health of their families.
PxD and HarvestPlus partnered on the ‘Harvest Plus Zinc Biofortified Seeds Project’. This involved completing a pilot project which targeted 100K smallholder farmers in five districts of Punjab: Bahawalpur, Rahim yar Khan, Khanwal, Faisalabad and Multan. The methodology for it primarily involved a series of push calls and text messages that were designed and sent out to increase awareness among the farmers.
ZB seeds were chosen for this since they are expected to be more resistant to climatic changes, in particular to heatwaves, floods and droughts, and provide high yields and nutritional value to beneficiaries.
Approximately 1.3 million SMS and 967,668 robocalls were sent to over 100,000 farmers; farmers’ pickup rates averaged 53 percent, and on average they listened to 76 percent of call duration, indicating a high level of interest amongst farmers to receive the digital advisory. Moreover, a helpline was set up to answer farmer queries and to solicit farmers’ feedback via multiple rounds of surveys. After the promotional campaign was completed, a profiling survey was conducted in which over 8,000 farmers were contacted.
Based on our profiling survey, the number of users of Akbar-19 and Zincol-16 has gone up from 131 to 872 this season in the five districts, however, it is important to keep in mind that this rise could be due to more than just our campaign, and other factors such as increased seed availability helping to boost adoption of Akbar-19 could have played a role in the growth in take-up.
Of farmers who reported planting zinc-biofortified wheat, 58 percent reported SMS/Robocalls as their primary source of information about zinc-biofortified wheat seeds, 91.9 percent of survey respondents stated that the advisory content was easily understandable, and 98.6 percent of the farmers reported that it was useful.
A post-harvest survey was completed in May/June 2021 with 679 farmers who had previously indicated that they had used one or both zinc-biofortified seeds in Rabi 2020-2021 season. Due to the absence of a control group, these results are a comparison of the farmers’ yield, income, and general experience as compared to wheat varieties from last season. It was reported that the average yield amounted to 47.95 maunds/acre for Akbar-19 in the Rabi 2020-2021 season, whereas an average of 41.49 maunds/acre has been reported for the Rabi 2019-2020 season. 76.44% of farmers who completed the post-harvest survey reported an increase in their yield this season. Both progressive and smallholder farmers reported an increase of 33% in income from wheat harvest in the Rabi 2020-2021 season as compared to the income earned in Rabi 2019-2020.
While surveys do not reach the threshold of a rigorous evaluation, they do suggest that the pilot campaign to promote zinc-biofortified seeds was quite successful. At a minimum, the pilot suggests that digital information services can be used very effectively to scale the promotion of campaigns to promote nutritious crops at a very low cost per farmer.