Case study 2: Vitamin A Maize in Zambia

Two girls eating biofortified maize, Zambia. Credit DFID

Two girls eating biofortified maize, Zambia. Credit DFID

A lack of vitamin A causes blindness in 500,000 children annually and is linked to increased risk of death from disease.[1] In Zambia, although sugar has been fortified with vitamin A since the 1990’s, a 2003 National Food and Nutrition Commission showed that 54% of children under the age of 5 remained vitamin A deficient, as well as 13% of women aged 15-49.[2]

In 2012 pre-school children in the Nyimba District of Zambia were selected to partake in a study, primarily for their willingness to participate. Children were selected who were reasonably healthy, without infection, but who had not received any vitamin A supplements in the past 6 months. Children were either fed 200g/day of white maize, the same amount of orange vitamin A fortified maize (developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, CIMMYT and HarvestPlus) or a vitamin A supplement. The study demonstrated that orange maize is an effective vitamin A source; those who were fed orange maize showed significant increases in their vitamin A levels. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the vitamin A levels in children who were fed the supplement and those who ate the orange maize.[3]

HarvestPlus released their first biofortified maize in 2012. By 2014, it reached 75,000 farming households, equivalent to more than 450,000 people. The maize currently provides 25% of the daily requirement of vitamin A in a typical 300g serving. However, HarvestPlus aims to provide more fortified varieties, which can provide up to 60% of the daily requirement.[4] Emerson Banji is a HarvestPlus lead farmer in the Zambian village of Muyumbana.[5] Despite poor rainfall in 2013, Emerson was confident that his orange maize, which is high-yielding, disease and drought-tolerant,[6] would provide a better crop than the white maize he used to grow. He reports that ‘he would prefer to always plant orange maize over white maize, because he believes it offers a better life for his family.’

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