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Collaborating to Tackle Malnutrition

Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in the western hemisphere, and fourth highest in the world. Lack of a diverse diet as well as reliance on corn tortillas, a nutritionally incomplete staple, have contributed to this public health crisis. Because of this reality, over half of children under age five in Guatemala are expected to experience stunted growth. Five years ago, the thought of our communities being in the forefront of groundbreaking research in a national effort to curb malnutrition was only a speck of our imagination, today it is a reality.

Semilla Nueva is joining forces with HarvestPlus to implement a new way to address malnutrition rates in Guatemala. HarvestPlus is a global organization that leads efforts to make familiar foods that people eat every day more nutritious and available to those suffering from hunger. HarvestPlus hopes to make real change in Guatemala through a collaborative effort with Semilla Nueva, the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture, the Institute of Science and Agricultural Technologies (ICTA), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and the Institute of Nutrition in Central America and Panama (INCAP).

Children eat pigeonpea salad and Quality Protein  Maize tortillas at the Community Conferences in WillyWood. 

Their strategy? Biofortification. Biofortification is a process that breeds higher amounts of vitamins and minerals directly into foods such as bean, yucca, potato, rice, maize and wheat; staple foods in Guatemalan diet. These new crop varieties are not only high yielding, but also more nutritious; they contain higher amounts of vitamin A, zinc, and iron that are essential to good health. Since farmers know how to grow these traditional crops and women know how to prepare them, biofortification offers a culturally appropriate solution to malnutrition. Already reaching one million farmers globally, by forging new partnerships HarvestPlus hopes to reach more than 100 million people suffering from malnutrition with biofortified crops by 2018.

Semilla Nueva will be an essential partner in getting the Guatemalan program off the ground. Before national distribution of seeds, Semilla Nueva will be the lead in a small-scale pilot study to investigate how our farmer participants accept new biofortified crops and the impacts these crops have on nutrition rates. Over the course of 2014 Semilla Nueva will fully integrate Quality Protein Maize (QPM), a non-GMO corn variety bred to be a complete protein, in all 10 communities in which we work. We will evaluate farmer acceptance of the crops both in the field and in the kitchen in hopes of determining the best way to introduce these crops throughout the country.

The majority of farmers within Semilla Nueva’s communities already grow corn as a staple crop.

The Guatemalan government recognizes this potential to have a national impact and has therefore assigned officials from both its agricultural research branch and Ministry of Agriculture to collaborate on the program. Semilla Nueva is looking forward to the chance to make a real contribution to the scientific community and the opportunity to be part of a global movement to fight malnutrition through sustainable means- one farmer at a time.

To learn more about the HarvestPlus initiative, check out their website here: http://www.harvestplus.org/

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