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Making maize more nutritious

THE CHALLENGE

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 APPROACH

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.

Semilla Nueva's ability to scale biofortified maize depends on high-quality seed production and effective marketing and promotion. Our support will enable the initiative to increase seed production and establish a climatised and secure storage unit large enough to store the seed produced. It will also fund research, promotional activities and marketing materials.

 

GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT

Semilla Nueva expects to increase seed sales to 1 200 bags in 2018 and 2 800 bags in 2019, each of which is enough to fortify the daily diet of 55 people for a full year. Its long-run goal is to scale up nutritious maize cultivation across Guatemala and achieve financial sustainability.

Semilla Nueva

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Semilla Nueva – which means “new seed” in Spanish – is a social enterprise that produces, markets and sells biofortified maize seeds to combat chronic malnutrition in Guatemala.

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