Better Nutrition through Song

HarvestPlus is using star power to help spread the word about biofortified staple foods.

Rwanda: Pop stars deliver a danceable message about nutrition to thousands of fans.

Rwandan pop stars deliver a danceable message about nutrition to thousands of fans.


Five of Rwanda’s top pop musicians—King James, Miss Jojo, Riderman, Tom Close, and Urban Boyz—have collaborated on a new song. It’s got a catchy tune, a good beat—and a heartfelt message about iron-rich beans.

The song was the brainchild of staff in the Rwanda office of HarvestPlus, a program coordinated by IFPRI and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) that develops new seed varieties rich in key vitamins and minerals using conventional breeding methods. HarvestPlus has already developed varieties of staple crops that are commonly eaten in parts of Africa and that are biofortified with needed nutrients. Now it’s using innovative media to promote vitamin A–rich cassava in Nigeria and high-iron beans in Rwanda.

Starting with a Better Bean

In Rwanda, where people say that “a meal without beans is like no meal at all,” nearly 40 percent of children are iron deficient. The iron-rich bean variety, developed by CIAT and other partners under the HarvestPlus program, not only contains 15 percent more iron than traditional varieties, but also delivers significantly higher yields. In Nigeria, vitamin A deficiency affects 20 percent of pregnant women and 30 percent of preschool-aged children. Cassava is a staple there, but it’s strikingly low in nutrients, so HarvestPlus has developed a cassava variety richer in beta-carotene, which the human body converts into vitamin A.

It can be challenging, though, to introduce new foods to farmers and consumers. Sometimes it’s the messenger that makes the difference.

“Popular figures, such as musicians and movie stars, have a lot of power to spread these messages and to allow us to reach people in rural areas,” says Denis Okello, a communications specialist at HarvestPlus.

Love Song for a Bean

To support the uptake of the “iron beans,” the group of Rwandan hip-hop, Afropop, R&B, and rap musicians  produced a song and music video promoting the beans. The song has played widely on radio, and the musicians took their message on the road as well, playing a series of live concerts attended by 30,000 people.

In Nigeria, Africa’s “Hollywood,” HarvestPlus worked with top film directors and movie stars to produce a series of four movies—each in one of Nigeria’s common languages—about a young, beautiful agricultural extension worker whose commitment to promoting the benefits of the more nutritious cassava leads to tension with her fiancé. The movies, which premiered at the Abuja International Film Festival in September 2014, will be shown at community events across the country.

“These crops are good for farmers too,” says Okello. “They have higher yields than conventional varieties, and they are resistant to disease.” So the messages are also targeted to farmers, even telling them where they can purchase seeds. As the song says, “Why would you miss out on these wonderful beans?”

Photo credit: HarvestPlus

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