On December 8, AgResults officially launched its Zambia Biofortified Maize Pilot in order to combat Vitamin A deficiency across the southern African nation. The project aims to increase the availability of pro-Vitamin A (PVA) biofortified maize – also known as orange maize – by incentivizing both millers and seed companies to produce and sell maize meal and seed respectively.
“Orange maize gives us a new and sustainable opportunity to mitigate the vitamin A deficiency challenge in Zambia,” said the honourable Dr Chitalu Chilufya M.P., the acting Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Health in Zambia, in his keynote address at the launch. “It is my hope that as a country we will begin to adopt orange maize for our Nshima so that we improve the vitamin A status of our children and ourselves.” Dr Citalu further praised the work to increase the availability of PVA maize because it can reduce the cost and burden on health systems.
In addition to a keynote address by the Minister of Health, guests included private sector representatives (millers, seed companies, grain traders, etc.) and donors includeding representatives from USAID, the World Bank Group, AfDB, as well as other government officials. The event was held at the Radisson Hotel in Lusaka. Seed companies and millers displayed their products to attendees in order to allow people to see their marketing and product development. There was such excitement around the event and the increased focus on PVA maize that one company already received requests for quotes on their product: a good sign of increased interest in PVA maize.
Vitamin A deficiency affects a significant percentage of the Zambia population, specifically women and children, and causes blindness, stunting, a greater susceptibility to infection, and in extreme cases, death. While Vitamin A deficiency is completely preventable, Zambians, especially those who live in poverty, struggle to gain access to a vitamin A rich diet. For decades, international donors have invested in developing bio-fortified foods that enhance food with necessary nutrients through breeding techniques. In the case of biofortified maize, HarvestPlus, with whom AgResults is partnering, has selected genetic traits that increase carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A.
Unfortunately, because of high uncertainty and costs of market entry, private sector actors, including seed companies and millers, have been reluctant to adopt orange maize as a viable commercial product. Because of this, a commercial market, with sufficient supply and demand, has not been developed, and seed companies did not invest in sufficient multiplication. Furthermore, beyond international development projects that provided seeds, farmers bought PVA maize seed largely for home consumption and not to sell on the market. Amounts purchased varied largely, depended on household budgets and remained relatively small. Because of this, demand for the seed remained uncertain.
In order to help create a market for PVA maize, the AgResults Zambia Biofortified Maize Pilot provides monetary incentive prizes to seed companies who sell PVA maize seed above specific sales thresholds and to millers who buy, mill and sell PVA maize meal to supermarkets and food processors. Ultimately, the increased supply, mixed with marketing campaigns, will hopefully increase demand of consumers and incentivize the private sector to overcome the risks and costs for market entry, and ultimately build a vibrant PVA maize market. The project is a five-year project and is managed by Agribusiness Systems International.
By creating a vibrant market for this maize, AgResults donors hope that all Zambians will be able to make their Nshima, a traditional dish made of maize meal (known as mealie meal to most Zambians) and water with orange maize. Even the Hon. Dr Chitalu, who himself has tasted it, encouraged Zambians to look for the meal, if not for the health benefits, for the taste.
“The orange mealie meal is also very tasty for Nshima I must add,” he said in closing his remarks, “So you get both health and culinary benefits.”