Zambia reached a major milestone yesterday by officially launching commercial sales of vitamin A maize. It marks the first time that this orange maize variety, first introduced in select provinces three years ago, will be widely available to consumers across the country to purchase.

“We have never had a colored maize variety enter our mainstream value chain,” observed Honorable Given Lubinda, the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, who graced the launch event in Lusaka. “We recognize that Zambia is the first country in Africa to get to this stage with Vitamin A maize.”

Maize, the predominant staple food crop in Zambia, is consumed by virtually every Zambian household. However, the commonly available white varieties lack micronutrients, such as vitamin A, which are essential for good health. Vitamin A deficiency affects more than half of all Zambian children aged under five, increasing their risk of preventable blindness, disease and death from severe infections.

The vitamin A maize varieties currently available to Zambian consumers can provide up to 40 percent of daily vitamin A needs, and varieties in the pipeline will be able to provide up to 50 percent. vitamin A maize also boasts competitive yields.

HarvestPlus, a global program to improve nutrition and public health, worked with the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and other partners to develop vitamin A maize through conventional breeding in a process known as biofortification.

“This launch demonstrates the Government of Zambia’s support and ownership of the maize biofortification program,” notes Eliab Simpungwe, the HarvestPlus Country Manager for Zambia. “We would also like to commend the three seed companies—Kamano Seed, ZamSeed, and SeedCo—that are commercializing vitamin A maize and helping to ensure its wide availability in Zambia.”

The Ministry of Agriculture has already included vitamin A maize under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), which subsidizes farmers' access to seeds. More than 100,000 Zambian farming households are currently growing and eating vitamin A maize. HarvestPlus expects that at least 600,000 households will have adopted the crop by 2020.