Making maize more nutritious
Chronic malnutrition, which is due largely to an inadequate, unbalanced diet in the first years of life, is both a major cause and a major effect of poverty. By stunting growth, it impedes learning in childhood, lowers earnings in adulthood and increases susceptibility to disease and mortality throughout life. In places like Guatemala, where one in two children are undernourished, this stunting of individual potential holds back whole economies and societies.
A diet based on a single staple crop such as maize, wheat or rice greatly increases the risk of chronic malnutrition. Maize, in particular, lacks the quality protein and micronutrients needed to support healthy growth in young children. Why do rural Guatemalans rely on it to supply nearly half of their calories, typically – and sometimes exclusively – eating maize tortillas three times a day?
Maize has a high yield and is inexpensive to produce and to buy. It has also been grown in Guatemala for thousands of years and is integral to local cultures. Efforts to reduce malnutrition in Central America by teaching nutrition and encouraging home gardening have failed for all these reasons.
The social enterprise Semilla Nueva works with rather than against the popularity of maize in Guatemala by using it as a system for delivering more essential nutrients. Targeting commercial farmers, this social enterprise sells biofortified hybrid maize seed that provides 50% more zinc and 150% more bioavailable protein than normal maize. This kind of maize has been shown to reduce chronic malnutrition by 10-20% in populations where maize accounts for 40-50% of the local diet.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
With the Swiss Re Foundation’s support, in 2018 Semilla Nueva successfully launched the world's first commercial sale of high zinc, iron and quality protein corn seeds. By the end of 2019 it had reached over 210 000 Guatemalans with more nutritious corn and captured 2% of Guatemala's hybrid seed market. Funding from the Foundation enabled Semilla Nueva to increase seed production, establish a secure, climatised storage unit large enough to store the seed produced, carry out research and promotional activities and create marketing materials.
In the next phase of the project, which has been extended through January 2022, Semilla Nueva will focus on the following goals:
- Expanding seed sales to 10 000 bags over two years. This means that an estimated 18 630 families will purchase biofortified hybrid maize seed, directly improving the lives of 123 888 people by raising both their incomes and their nutritional intake.
- Improving Semilla Nueva's monitoring and evaluation systems to provide better impact data on smallholder families
- Further developing Semilla Neuva’s organisation to become self-sustaining in the next years
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