The Maize Breeding Unit of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in collaboration with Nigeria’s National Varieties Release Committee (NVRC), the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), and HarvestPlus, has released two new varieties of vitamin A maize with high yield and increased vitamin A content to farmers in Nigeria.

Oladosu Awoyemi, the chairperson of the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC), announced the release of the new maize varieties, SAMMAZ 59 and SAMMAZ 60, during the NVRC’s 29th meeting at the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB) in Ibadan. 

The new maize varieties will address major constraints in maize production and also contribute to improving food security for the more than 9 million smallholder households currently growing maize for food and income in Nigeria. 

According to Dr Wende Mengesha, an IITA maize breeder, the varieties will be tolerant to pests and diseases such as maize streak virus, rust leaf blight, curvularia leaf spot, drought, and parasitic weeds. 

He added: “In terms of grain yield and other economically important traits, the new varieties are more competitive than earlier generations of pro-vitamin A hybrids and other popular white maize varieties currently under production.”

In Nigeria, HarvestPlus estimates that over 756,000 families are currently growing vitamin A maize, and is now working with private and public sector partners to reach even more farmers in 2021.

It is estimated that 29.5 percent of children under five years old in Nigeria are deficient in vitamin A, putting them at risk of illness and death, according to WHO. HarvestPlus aims to speed adoption and consumption of biorfortified crops by creating and strengthening demand for the new vitamin A maize varieties, thereby also improving the health status of millions of Nigerians. 

HarvestPlus continues to intensify its efforts to release more nutritious crop varieties through private and public sector partnerships. HarvestPlus coordinates Nigeria’s staple crop biofortification program, which launched in 2010 as a complementary strategy to address micronutrient deficiency—particularly vitamin A deficiency. So far, six vitamin A-biofortified varieties of cassava, eight varieties of maize (now 10), and three varieties of orange sweet potato have been released in Nigeria. Development of iron-zinc sorghum and iron pearl millet are in advanced stages.