New varieties are loaded with vitamin A but are orange in color, not white.
Photo: HarvestPlus

Vitamin A deficiency affects millions of people, especially children, worldwide. Lack of vitamin A can retard growth, cause blindness, and increase risk of illness. In Zambia, more than half of children under five are at risk of vitamin A deficiency. HarvestPlus is working with Zambian researchers to develop varieties of maize with high beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A. Maize that is rich in beta-carotene is also orange in color. One lingering question is whether people will accept an ‘orange’ maize variety or whether they prefer to continue eating white maize, which has no beta-carotene.

A recent study conducted by HarvestPlus and collaborators investigated whether Zambian consumers will accept orange maize. The study assessed consumers’ willingness to pay for the orange maize variety compared to yellow and white varieties. Consumers were given samples of orange maize flour to try at home or they were asked to taste nshima (a common Zambian maize preparation) in a controlled setting.

In both scenarios, consumers were asked to rate the maize and their willingness to buy the maize if it were available in the market. The study also used two different approaches—radio and community leaders—to disseminate nutrition information on the benefits of the new variety.

Results from the study show that the orange color of the provitamin A maize is not a hindrance to consumer acceptance. Consumers who received nutrition information, whether through radio or community leaders, were more likely to accept the new variety of maize, suggesting the importance of mass media and interpersonal communication in encouraging consumer adoption. Within two years, provitamin A maize should be released in Zambia, where it has the potential of being a life-changing crop for many.

For full details and results from the study, see Working Paper #4.

Additional resources:

Learn more about provitamin A maize in Zambia.

Read the HarvestPlus maize strategy.

Find out more about why vitamin A is so important for health.