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Jean d'Amour Manirere

Jean d'Amour Manirere believes biofortified beans are a cost-effective way to increase iron intake (Bonnie McClafferty/HarvestPlus)
Jean d'Amour Manirere believes biofortified beans are a cost-effective way to increase iron intake
Bonnie McClafferty/HarvestPlus

Addressing hidden hunger in Rwanda

Jean d'Amour Manirere, is the HarvestPlus Country Manager for high-iron beans in Rwanda.

During the last decade, Rwanda has made great progress, but food and nutrition insecurity still persist. Anaemia, for example, is widespread, with more than half of children under five and about 30 per cent of women suffering from anaemia, because their diet is based on cereals and tubers that are poor sources of absorbable iron. Such 'hidden hunger' occurs when families cannot afford enough micronutrient rich foods, like fresh vegetables or meat. However, as Country Manager for the HarvestPlus iron bean dissemination program, I believe we've found a sustainable, cost-effective way to increase the intake of iron for Rwanda's poorest citizens.

Adding iron to Rwanda's staple crop

A novel way to introduce more iron into someone's diet is to breed it into the crop that they most often eat. For us Rwandans this crop is beans. In Rwanda, beans are used to make a little food stretch a long way; most families boil a week's consumption at once, which is later mixed in at mealtimes with bits of potato, cassava, banana and maize. We eat about 200g per day, more than most other countries in the world. HarvestPlus and its partners (CIAT/PABRA and ISAR) have been adding more iron to beans through biofortification, a natural crossbreeding process. The target is to develop bean varieties that contain 94 micrograms of iron in every gram of bean. Eaten at every meal, such biofortified beans could give Rwandans up to 30 per cent of their daily iron requirement.

Biofortified beans could give Rwandans up to 30 per cent of their daily iron requirement (CIAT/Neil Palmer)
Biofortified beans could give Rwandans up to 30 per cent of their daily iron requirement
CIAT/Neil Palmer

Already in Uganda, sweet potatoes biofortified with vitamin A have been successfully distributed to farming communities through pilot programmes. With this crop, Ugandan children will receive the required amounts of vitamin A to protect them against infectious diseases and potential blindness. High-iron beans are moving quickly along the same path. Over the past year, many new varieties have been released with great success.

Feeding trials for the biofortified beans are planned for later in 2010. We believe these will prove that people can successfully absorb extra iron from eating these enriched beans, and a recent study has showed that biofortification promises to be a cost-effective strategy for reducing micronutrient deficiencies. Most importantly, iron-rich beans look the same as current varieties, they do not require any special techniques to grow, nor be treated any differently when cooked. This means that farmers are much more likely to grow the crop and Rwandans are more likely to eat it.

Raising awareness in communities

Farmer participation is the key to success (CIAT/Neil Palmer)
Farmer participation is the key to success
CIAT/Neil Palmer

We will, of course, need to train farmers in good agricultural practices and educate people on the benefits of eating iron-rich beans, and promoting and distributing biofortified beans in Rwanda is another major part of my work. I talk to farming leaders and consumer representatives to provide information and in partnernership with local and international organisations develop marketing campaigns on a national scale. For seed distribution, the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture has created a national policy to release the seeds to farmers through NGOs. To further popularise the crop, "pro-biofortified' farmers will be chosen to grow the seeds and showcase the benefits.

All of these efforts bring us closer to my ultimate goal of high iron beans being widely accepted and eaten. National agricultural policies, partnerships with strong community support, and farmer participation are the keys to success. Once biofortified crops have the support of the people, I'm confident we'll have created a powerful and self-sustaining tool to end hidden hunger. This scientific progress is an important step for my country because, although Rwanda is a country of educated farmers and lush farmlands, few new bean cultivars have been developed since the genocide events of 1994. The release of these beans is a testament to Rwanda's recovery, resilience, and commitment to moving forward to make a better future out of a difficult past.

Date published: April 2010

 

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