Last week was very exciting for the BiZiFED team, as we all came together for the first time since our launch meeting in June 2017. We chose the mountain resort of Murree as our venue, 30km from Islamabad. Murree was developed as a hill station (and sanatorium) for British troops in 1850, and is now a popular tourist destination. It provided a lush setting for our meeting, and we managed to find time to get outside and enjoy the surroundings.
Since our randomised controlled trial of bio-fortified zinc flour was completed in February 2018, the UK team was eager to hear from the field team about how it went. We were honoured to be joined by two community members who participated in the trial. This was a special opportunity because we were unable to visit the community in Peshawar due to security risks. We were pleased to hear that they had enjoyed the flour provided during the trial, and wanted to purchase more. They did not know which was the biofortified zinc flour and which was the control flour, but they reported that some participants had noticed health improvements during the trial.
The next priorities are sample processing and data analysis. We have collected hundreds of samples, which will be sent to different laboratories around the world, so we spent some time finalising our data management and quality assurance protocols. We hope to have preliminary results to share at the Agriculture, Nutrition & Health Academy in Ghana.
Another important objective of the BiZiFED project is to explore stakeholder awareness and acceptance of biofortified zinc flour and zinc fertilisers in Pakistan. We spent a whole day engaged in group activities to develop our stakeholder mapping and research methods. For example, we divided into two teams and role played a village meeting to explore community perspectives on biofortified zinc flour. This helped us to understand some of the cultural issues that might arise when a traditional, rural community is encouraged to adopt a new type of flour. Great fun and extremely informative!
After a productive few days in Murree, we travelled back to Islamabad for our final day. We hosted a research symposium at the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) with over 40 delegates including academics, crop specialists, NGOs and journalists. We presented information about the BiZiFED project, which generated a lot of interest. Guest speakers from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Nutrition International, HarvestPlus and Khyber Medical University presented their work on nutrition interventions and nutrition research in Pakistan. The slides and videos from this event will be available to view on our project website soon.
We also had a guided tour of the wheat plots located at NARC. A previous blog introduced our BiZiFED cost-effectiveness study, which involves growing biofortified zinc wheat (and other varieties) at three different sites, using different zinc fertiliser concentrations. It was nice to see the wheat growing and find out more about the crop breeding process and other innovations in biofortification.