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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL 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.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid