Colombian households can look forward to consuming more nutritious maize (corn), one of the important staples in their food basket. The new maize variety will be richer in zinc—up to 50 percent more—than varieties available on the market right now. Currently under testing, zinc maize should be ready for commercial release in 2017.
Stakeholders recently met to assess progress in developing, testing, and multiplying the crop, and map a way forward for delivering it to farmers and consumers. They included representatives from the government’s health and agriculture ministries, food and seed companies, and non-governmental organizations.
“Having everyone sit down together—those who produce seed, those who plant it, those who buy it, and those who consume it through meal programs, for example—was key for comprehensive planning,” notes Luis Narro, a maize breeder from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
HarvestPlus and CIMMYT co-organized the meeting hosted at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. Zinc maize was developed conventionally through biofortification. It will provide Colombian households with a convenient source for an important nutrient lacking or insufficient in nearly half of all children aged under five. Inadequate zinc in the diet leaves children vulnerable to stunting, lowered immunity, diarrheal disease, and respiratory infections.
Participants at the stakeholder event identified and agreed on priority activities to promote the availability and processing of zinc maize to ensure that it will reach as many Colombian consumers as possible. They can count on the Government’s support, including that of the event’s host, Valle de Cauca, which has offered land for zinc maize activities. Colombia has already embraced a number of other biofortified crops, including iron beans and vitamin A cassava and maize. Joining maize in providing zinc will be biofortified rice, which is also scheduled for release next year.