The Government of Zambia is actively promoting farmer adoption of vitamin A-biofortified maize (VAM) to address high rates of vitamin A deficiency and resulting health impacts. HarvestPlus is working with various partners in Zambia to help facilitate VAM adoption, particularly by women farmers. 

In Zambia, more than 54 percent of children between six months and 5 years of age and an estimated 14 percent of pregnant women are vitamin A-deficient. This condition contributes to high rates of infection and poor pregnancy outcomes, and can also lead to blindness, sometimes even death. 

Maize is an important staple crop in Zambia. White maize varieties grown and consumed in Zambia do not contain pro-vitamin A, the precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A is commonly found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and animal products (milk and liver), food sources that are often either unavailable or too expensive for many resource-constrained Zambian households. 

Orange-colored vitamin A maize (VAM) contains significant amounts of pro-vitamin A, even after processing. When consumed regularly, it can provide over 50 percent of the daily vitamin A requirements for (non-pregnant, non-lactating) women and young children, and has proven to be a cost-effective and safe way of improving nutrition. Efficacy studies show that biofortified maize improves vitamin A status and visual function in children, making it easier for them to complete their day-to-day activities in dim light. When lactating mothers eat it, it also improves the vitamin A content of their breast milk.

To encourage the adoption of VAM, the Government of Zambia has included it in the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) subsidy scheme. This intervention is paying off, with more Zambians adopting vitamin A maize farming.  Furthermore, FISP is reaching farmers who are not serviced by seed companies because they are located in remote areas. 

To supplement the Government’s efforts, the CGIAR’s HarvestPlus program works with various partners in nine provinces of Zambia to promote the cultivation and dissemination of VAM as well as vitamin A orange sweet potato and iron Mbereshi bean. The program is being implemented in Western, Luapula, Eastern, Central, Lusaka, North-Western, Northern, Southern, and Copperbelt provinces.

One of the beneficiaries of this program is the Kafue Estate Women Multipurpose Cooperative. Cooperative Secretary Gertrude Mubuyaeta said that consumption of VAM seems to be improving the children’s health and ability to perform well in school. HarvestPlus and the Cooperative are working collaboratively to promote the cultivation of iron beans, VAM, and vitamin A orange sweet potatoes.  

Another participating organization, Tuswangane Estates Club, is seeing similar benefits from these crops. Club Director Juliet Banda said that members previously had to borrow money to feed their families, but now the VAM program is providing a livelihood lift, reducing the borrowing needs. 

Women from the Chikoka Women’s Club were the first group in Zambia to grow VAM and iron beans. They claimed that the VAM yields brought greater prosperity and opportunities to their families. Chikoka Women’s Club Chairperson Idah Kapaipi said VAM is one of the most highly sought-after crops, and customers appreciate its nutritional value.

HarvestPlus works in Zambia in partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which is a CGIAR research center, and the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). The MoA and HarvestPlus closely collaborate across the entire value chain, starting with crop research, the crop release process, the introduction of the new technologies, farmer capacity strengthening in agronomy, post-harvest management, nutrition, processing and utilization, and market linkages.   

MoA District Nutritionist Anna Nawa said 50 cooperatives with over 1,000 beneficiaries acquired VAM skills in Kafue District. Through the support of the Canadian Government-funded “An Integrated Food Systems Approach to Build Nutrition Security” project, over 270,000 farming households in nine provinces have benefited from training and input support on growing iron beans, VAM, and vitamin A orange sweet potatoes during the 2021-2022 farming season. HarvestPlus Country Lead Emely Banda said that the adoption rate for biofortified crops has been encouraging.

Banda further encouraged farmers to scale up their production to meet the growing demand for the three crops, especially VAM. She also expressed optimism for the 2022/2023 farming season; HarvestPlus plans to reach out to about 20,000 farmers in Lusaka and surrounding districts. These efforts are made to ensure that nutrient-dense orange maize, iron beans and sweet potatoes are constantly available throughout the year in the market.