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Delivering Nutrition From a Village Shop

By Angella Atero

This Article in Brief

  • Iron deficiency and anemia are major health threats across Uganda, especially among children.
  • Iron-rich beans, when eaten regularly, can provide up to 80 percent of an average person’s daily iron needs and help prevent iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Local seed suppliers, like Nakyanzi Ruth, are bringing seeds for iron-rich beans and other nutritious foods to their communities to boost nutrition.

Nakyanzi Ruth is not a typical farming products supplier. While running her business and offering quality supplies to farmers, Ruth has spent the last two decades also taking every opportunity she can to learn the details of producing nutritious crops.

Ruth lives in central Uganda. She has learned most of what she knows about farming from the nearby Kyazanga Farmers’ Cooperative – a place where farmers regularly exchange best practices.

She has seen firsthand how innovative farming technologies not only benefit her trade and business, but also improve the health and livelihood of her community. She’s bringing those benefits closer to home by supplying the seeds for iron-rich beans to her community.

The benefits of beans

In Uganda, one out of every two children under the age of five is anemic. Iron deficiency is a leading cause of anemia and can limit cognitive development and learning and increase weakness and fatigue.

Beans are a good source of iron and can help combat anemia. The Feed the Future Meals for Nutrition in Uganda Biofortified Solutions (MENU) program, implemented by HarvestPlus, promotes growing and eating a certain type of nutritious bean that is packed with iron. The beans provide up to 80 percent of an average person’s daily iron needs when eaten regularly.

During a meeting at the cooperative, Ruth learned about these beans and other biofortified crops, such as vitamin A-rich orange sweet potatoes. She was immediately intrigued. The beans could help address micronutrient deficiency in her community while boosting yields, providing an economic benefit to the farmers who grew them.

Photo by HarvestPlus

Photo by HarvestPlus

Spreading knowledge across the community

Ruth purchased 200 kilograms (kgs) of seeds for iron-rich beans–at an initially subsidized rate from HarvestPlus–to sell in her village after being invited to be a regional champion for the crop. She is one of 26 suppliers across Uganda selected by MENU to champion the use of iron-rich beans.

During her first season selling the beans, Ruth sold about 80 percent of the iron-rich bean seed she had purchased. The next season, HarvestPlus connected her to Pearl Seeds Ltd., a Ugandan seed company. She bought 600 kgs of seed from it. This time around, a subsidy was no longer necessary – her iron-rich bean seed operation was self-sufficient from the profit she made during the first season.

“While the main driver of bean purchases is their high yield, when I mention to my customers the health benefits, they decide to order more,” said Ruth.

While Ruth continues to spread the news of this transformative crop within her community, Feed the Future continues to raise awareness among farmers and consumers by producing radio programs that include nutrition information and details on where to access seeds for planting.

The Feed the Future-supported MENU program continues to strengthen the capacity of Ugandans to grow, market and buy biofortified crops across the country, helping to address micronutrient deficiency. The effort has empowered more than 176,000 smallholder farmers to grow, consume and sell iron-rich beans. Providing community members like Ruth with access to and understanding of iron-rich bean seeds has benefited Ugandans from 25 districts throughout the country with more income and nutritious meals.

Feed the Future’s MENU project in Uganda, implemented by HarvestPlus, has been advancing the use and delivery of staple crops that are biofortified to contain higher levels of iron, zinc, or vitamin A to rural communities since 2017.

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