Over two billion people across the world suffer from hidden hunger, the consumption of a sufficient number of calories, but still lacking essential nutrients such as vitamin A, iron or zinc. This can cause severe damage to health, blindness, or even death.
At the 4th annual Latin American Cereals Conference (LACC) in Mexico City from 11 to 14 March, presenters discussed global malnutrition and how biofortification of staple crops can be used to improve nutrition for farming families and consumers.
A publication from the Global Crop Diversity Trust delves into the science behind Provitamin A maize, a biofortified maize variety with the power to reduce malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, and approximately one third of children under 5 are at risk.
by Jennifer Johnson
Left to right: Miguel Lengua, director general of Maxi Semillas S.A.S; Bram Govaerts, Latin America regional director at CIMMYT; Martin Kropff, CIMMYT director general; Howdy Bouis, interim HarvestPlus CEO; and Felix San Vicente, CIMMYT maize breeder at the launch of new biofortified zinc maize. Photo: Jennifer Johnson/CIMMYT.
A new zinc-enriched maize variety was released in Colombia on February 23 to help combat malnutrition in South America.
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in human development, but is not naturally produced by humans. Zinc deficiency can lead to impaired growth and development, respiratory infections, diarrheal disease and a general weakening of the immune system. In Colombia, an average of 22 percent of the population is affected by zinc deficiency. However in certain regions, such as the pacific coast and Amazonia, up to 65 percent of the population is deficient in zinc.
By Yassir Islam
Guest blogger from HarvestPlus
Only 20 years ago, the idea that maize could reduce vitamin A deficiency (VAD) would have been summarily dismissed. Agricultural scientists were focused on increasing yields and developing more robust varieties that could withstand the constant assault of new pests and diseases. The idea of making maize and other staple food crops more nutritious by breeding in vitamins and minerals, a process called biofortification, was a novel concept. However, with the launch of HarvestPlus in 2003, a collaborative research partnership was launched to bring together scientists across disciplines in an effort to reduce hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies. One of the fruits of this partnership were the world’s first “orange” maize varieties rich in vitamin A. This ‘orange’ vitamin A maize has been conventionally bred to provide higher levels of provitamin A carotenoids, a naturally occurring plant pigment also found in many orange foods such as mangoes, carrots and pumpkins, that the body then converts into vitamin A.