News / USA

Experts Aim to Save Lives with Fortified Crops

But questions remain whether farmers and consumers will accept orange maize

Vitamin A-enriched orange maize is a possible new weapon in the fight against malnutrition among the world's poor.
Vitamin A-enriched orange maize is a possible new weapon in the fight against malnutrition among the world's poor.

Multimedia

Audio

Maize breeder Kevin Pixley laughs when asked how to identify his new, nutritious variety.

"Oh, it's beautiful," he says. "The enriched maize is generally bright orange."

Dried ears of brilliant vitamin A-enriched orange maize decorate the tables at a recent conference in Washington, DC. Pixley was one of the experts gathered here to talk about a new method to fight malnutrition among the world's poor.

While nearly one billion people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger, experts say as many as two billion experience what is known as "hidden hunger" - malnutrition brought on by diets that lack critical nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A.

Consequences

The consequences include reduced productivity, stunted children's development, and increased risk of disease and death. Vitamin A deficiency, for instance, is the world's leading preventable cause of blindness, and it greatly increases the risk of serious illness and death. Research shows that delivering supplements to vitamin A-deficient children cuts the death rate by a quarter.

While fruits, vegetables and animal products are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, many of the world's rural poor cannot afford to eat a balanced diet. Instead, they survive on staple crops that lack many of the nutrients that are essential for good health.

Programs to deliver nutrient supplements or fortify food ingredients have largely failed to reach the rural poor.  

New approach

Now, Kevin Pixley and other experts are taking a different approach.

"In many countries of Asia, people eat rice every day," Pixley says. "In many countries of sub-Saharan Africa, people eat maize or cassava every day.  So if these foods can be more nutritious, then even the rural poor consumers are going to receive [essential nutrients] on a daily basis."

To make maize more nutritious, Pixley and other researchers found varieties that naturally produce higher-than-normal amounts of vitamin A.  But it took years of selective breeding to increase the content to levels that would prevent malnutrition.  

They used conventional breeding, not genetic modification, he says, because "in many countries, the use of genetically modified products would be a hindrance to acceptance."

But will it feed my family?

The most important factor for acceptance, however, is not vitamin content. The primary concern, Pixley says, is that the crop produces enough food for farmers to feed themselves and sell a surplus for a profit.

"For a maize variety to be successful, it has to be resistant to all the common diseases," he says. And in Africa, drought tolerance is a must. "And you also have to be sure that the maize grain that you're going to harvest is going to be useful for making the local foods."

Orange maize passes that test at the conference dinner here in Washington. Conference organizers provided Chef Michael Snead with about 36 kilograms of orange maize meal. Yesterday, Snead made maize meal cakes topped with sautéed wild mushrooms. Today, maize muffins are piled in the center of the table next to stacks of dried ears of bright orange maize.

"The maize was the main attraction for our event," Snead says. "So I made sure it stood out as the main attraction for dinner as well."

Orange maize vs. white maize

Researchers will be testing the crop's other properties in field trials about to begin in Zambia. If successful, it should be on the market in two or three years.

But orange maize may have an image problem in Zambia, where white maize is the staple. In fact, says Victor Manyong, East and Central Africa Director of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Zambians avoid yellow maize because it was brought into the country during periods of drought and famine as food aid.

"They associate yellow maize with lazy people, hard times and so on," Manyong says. "So when they have any other option, they don't take yellow maize."

And because yellow maize sells for much less, farmers growing white maize might worry about contamination.

"The farmer that is growing white maize for a commodity buyer will get frustrated if pollen from orange maize from [another] farmer crosses into his field," says Marx Mbunji with the southern African seed company Seedco International.

For the same reason, Mbunji adds, millers also might be reluctant to grind orange maize into flour with the same equipment they use for white maize.

A healthy brand

The good news is that early studies show that Zambian consumers see orange maize as different from yellow maize.  And when they learn about its nutritional benefits, they are willing to pay a premium for it. Mbunji says that could make orange maize more profitable for farmers.

But IITA's Victor Manyong says backers will need to get the word out about the health benefits of orange maize.

"We should not just expect that by bringing this product to the farmers, they will accept it, " he says. "I'm very amazed by a product such as Coca-Cola, which is already a well-known product [to] every consumer.  But still, Coca-Cola continues to make advertisements."

Like Coca-Cola's trademark red labels, experts say the bright orange color of vitamin A-rich maize will make an easily recognizable brand.

You May Like

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid