Partners for Advancing Agriculture ®

Wild Thing – Resilience Through Rich Oats

Fall 2018







Context Global Development (CGD) is partnering with General Mills to develop a community-led initiative to bring a protein- and nutrient-rich oat to traditional oat-consuming communities in Morocco, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.


In the wild, Avena magna has a mind of its own. This 100,000-year-old Moroccan oat, discovered in the 1960s, has two “awns” that act like arms when activated by water, helping the seed drill down into hard mud soils.

Soon, this resilience will help African farmers in climate-stressed environments produce healthier traditional cuisines for the continent. Eric Jackson, a systems biologist and geneticist, has worked for more than 10 years to domesticate the Avena magna oat variety while retaining the plant’s heritage, nutrient-rich profile. The new oat has nearly twice the protein and zinc, double the folic acid, and one-third more iron compared to the common oat.

Through the Rich Oats for Africa (ROA) initiative, CGD is spearheading community-led efforts, in partnership with General Mills to leverage General Mill’s current advances in computational biology and advanced genomics to bring the improved oat to rural farming communities in three priority countries – Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Morocco.

The new oat will directly address acute nutritional needs through culturally relevant oat-based foods in each country. Additionally, the new variety will integrate into existing agricultural and food production systems to help break the cycle of poverty and malnutrition while providing economic opportunities for local communities.

The Difference Nutrition Can Make

  • In Morocco…a nutrient-rich oat would improve dietary diversity and nutrition in a country where 32% of women of child-bearing age are malnourished.
  • In Ethiopia… 40% of pre-school children are stunted because of micronutrient deficiencies in their heavily cereal-based diets.
  • In Nigeria…76% of pre-school children in Nigeria are living with anemia.

In Morocco, the variety’s point of origin, oats are used in traditional breads, such as khobz, bejhrir, and msemen. The crop grows in the Atlas Mountain regions due to its suitability to heavy, clay soils Dr. Benlhabib, a professor from one of CGD’s implementation partners, the Institute of Agronomique et Vétérnaire (IAV) Hassan II, observes, “Since the protein-rich oat is already known to be agronomically suited to Morocco, it offers the promise of improved health and lifespan for Moroccans.” A nutrient-rich oat would improve dietary diversity and nutrition in a country where 32% of women of child-bearing age are malnourished.

On the other side of the continent, Dr. Gemechu Keneni from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) also considers the purpose of nutrient-rich oats as a viable solution to agricultural and nutritional issues in Ethiopia. He says, “By targeting improvements in oats, a crop that farm families within the central highlands rely on for food and fodder, the deployment of a high-protein oat can achieve our purpose of directly improving the nutritional profile of the meals of tens of thousands of low-income families.”

Tiffany Agard, program analyst at CGD, notes that in Ethiopia, despite strong gains in reducing the impact of micronutrient deficiencies, 40% of pre-school children are stunted. She says, “Meeting protein requirements to prevent stunting can be difficult in regions where diets are largely cereal-based. 60% of the oat production in the Central Highland region is consumed on-farm and as much as half of the cropland in focus communities grows oats.” EIAR has incorporated oats, including Avena magna, into its breeding program for plants adapted to marginal and acidic soils because they perform particularly well in these conditions.

For Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, oats can be a new crop opportunity for farmers and processors. “Oats are a viable, new alternative crop for the millions of farmers that currently have limited crop choices within Nigeria’s rainfed Northern states,” states Dr. Oyekunle, plant breeder at the Institute of Agricultural Research. Northern Nigeria, where oats are most suitable, is predominantly a sorghum and millet production region and could benefit from a larger crop mix for economic and nutritional opportunities. Local processors are also engaged in finding more nutritious grain sources for manufactured food products, like crackers, muesli, and granola, which will provide farmers a commercial market for this new crop as well.

ROA is engaging farmer cooperatives, local research institutions, government agencies, small and medium agribusinesses, and other implementation partners to develop an enabling ecosystem for producing and consuming nutrient-rich oats.

ROA began field trials in Morocco in 2017 and expanded to Ethiopia in 2018 to test Avena magna’s agronomic capabilities and farmer responses to the crop. Trials will be established in Nigeria later in 2018.

To learn more about the ROA initiative and implementation partnership opportunities, please contact Mark Nelson, Managing Director at Context Global Development at or 515.225.2204. Visit for more information about Context Global Development.