October 17, 2022
Vitamin A deficiency is a significant problem in Zambia: More than half of Zambian children ages 6 months to 5 years are deficient in Vitamin A, increasing their vulnerability to infections such as diarrhea, sight impairment, and other health problems. To combat this, in 2012, HarvestPlus, a multi-donor agricultural health and nutrition program, released three hybrid seed varieties of Pro-Vitamin A (PVA) maize high in beta-carotene. HarvestPlus aimed to target rural areas and promote the adoption of new PVA maize hybrids among smallholder farmers. Following these efforts by HarvestPlus, in 2014 AgResults launched a Pay-for-Results prize competition to (1) incentivize seed companies to produce and sell PVA maize seed to farmers and (2) incentivize millers to purchase PVA maize from farmers to mill and sell as PVA maize meal to urban and peri-urban consumers. However, myriad enabling environment challenges limited private sector participation, along with low consumer awareness and demand, so AgResults was forced to close the project in early 2018.
Although the AgResults project did not produce the intended results, it still laid the groundwork for later growth. Two seed companies that participated in the competition and were awarded monetary prizes continued to incorporate PVA maize into their operations in the following years. PVA maize is now a significant portion of their sales, and these actions have also encouraged competition for PVA maize seed production among from several other seed companies.
In the four years since the project ended, PVA maize seed sales have noticeably increased. A half dozen seed companies, including some of whom participated in the AgResults competition, have continued to sell PVA maize seed and improve their practices around PVA maize seed production. Their actions have been buoyed by increased demand for PVA maize, largely driven by government programs and non-governmental organizations through programs focusing on rural consumption. At the same time, as public opinion of PVA maize has improved among peri-urban and urban populations in Zambia, there has been a diversification of PVA maize products in the markets – no longer just maize meal but also snacks and other food products. Looking ahead, it will take a combination of efforts led by the government and by the private sector to determine the long-term future of the PVA maize market in Zambia.
A Lessons Learned article explores this narrative in more detail.