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Social Marketing Changed Everything We Thought About Nutrition: A New Approach to Get Farmers to Share QPM

Semilla Nueva Field Technician Hugo holds his seven-year-old son Jander as he addressed farming families gathered from 40 communities across the southern coast of Guatemala at April’s Farmer Field Day.

Semilla Nueva Field Technician Hugo holds his seven-year-old son Jander as he addresses farming families gathered from 40 communities across the southern coast of Guatemala at April’s Farmer Field Day.

We all feel proud when we can grow and give our families corn and tortillas. What is more Guatemalan than a family sitting around the table sharing tortillas? Imagine the table where your family eats with a basket of hot tortillas. You grab one- it is soft and tastes sweet. After eating, your family feels energized and they stay full for hours. These tortillas come from a new kind of corn called FORTALEZA, the corn that gives you and your family strength.

Hugo Chinchilla shared these words with his fellow farming community leaders as part of a movement that is changing how people view the corn they feed their families. The movement is sharing QPM, or Quality Protein Maize in a whole new light. Despite the potential for major impact on a family’s nutrition without necessitating a change in diet, QPM has been slow to spread to communities facing the highest rates of malnutrition. Many of those living in the region have little understanding of malnutrition, and the concept of protein intake for improved health has proved too abstract to stick. So, if families can’t connect with the value of better nutrition, how can we still create lasting change? After years of struggling to get our message to resonate, we have found new approach.

Through our partnership with social marketing non-profit Appleseed, we set out to find what motivates farmers to choose what corn they plant to feed their family and what would change the minds of the majority of families to plant QPM. It turns out it didn’t involve touting QPM’s nutritional benefits at all.

Appleseed guided us in designing a fresh strategy to connect farmers and their families with QPM. It abandoned the abstract language used previously and instead highlighted the taste and energizing properties of QPM. It was our chance to give the seed a whole new image using social marketing.

Social marketing has been used to create large-scale behavior change in a slew of contexts, from anti-smoking campaigns to increasing vegetable consumption, and even to persuade people to recycle. Appleseed creates social marketing strategies to improve what children eat in the places that need it most. When they connected with our Semilla Nueva team in August of 2015, we discovered that our goals to find lasting solutions to malnutrition aligned perfectly.

Then, this past December, Philip and Ruth Kao – a dynamic husband and wife duo of a bright, humble social marketer and a calm, passionate pediatrician – joined Semilla Nueva in Guatemala. To truly understand the target population, they set up home visits to farming families in three diverse communities, and collaborated on our annual surveys given to all of the areas we serve. As Ruth gave children routine checkups, Phil engaged parents in discussions about their food consumption. Not surprisingly, the conversation usually revolved around corn, with questions like, what does your family look for when planting corn? What corn seeds have you tried?

Listening to farmers is a core practice of Semilla Nueva, but this time, the listening came through an objective market research lens. This allowed us to pinpoint exactly what Guatemalan farming communities care about.

After months of field research, farmer focus groups, and creative collaboration from community members and Semilla Nueva staff, Appleseed helped us find the motivators for planting seed.  The crew came up with a whole new branding strategy that didn’t focus on nutrition, but reflected values of tradition and providing a strong source of food security for their loved ones. After speaking with a plethora of farmers and getting feedback on several names, we finally all agreed on a brand name that captured what QPM means to these families.

The new face of QPM, Fortaleza, meaning strength, urges farming families to “Harvest flavor and energy for your family.”

The new face of QPM, Fortaleza, meaning strength, urges farming families to “Harvest flavor and energy for your family.”

FORTALEZA. The word means strength or resilience, and coupled with the logo chosen by our farmers themselves, the brand was ready for its debut. The logo features a Guatemalan farming couple, dressed in traditional garments and swinging their young child between them as they walk towards the future. Our communities identified strongly with the notion of moving forward together while maintaining their strong traditions.

The new brand incorporates the idea that QPM is the better choice for farming families, even if the idea of nutrition is not at the forefront of the message. Families want to see their children happy, full, and healthy- images all provoked when describing the taste and energy the corn provides.

After honing the new message together, farmer leaders worked with Semilla Nueva and Appleseed to promote the seed and prepare to distribute to families. They held over 50 community events across Guatemala to inform their neighbors of the great flavor and agronomic benefits of the protein-packed corn in time for the rains in May. Volunteers from our Food Security and Nutrition Program cooked up FORTALEZA tortillas to compare tastes with regular corn tortillas so participants could feel the softness and sense the sweet flavor. Farmers who have grown QPM voiced their firsthand experiences with the crop, plus touched on their Guatemalan cultural food identity and what the crop has meant for their families and communities.

By discovering what corn meant to families and barriers faced to planting directly through the eyes of rural communities, our team was able to find a culturally competent way to incorporate farming family needs into a strong new message to spread QPM. We are now seeing the power of social marketing unfold as farmers and their families share the message with their neighbors. We have believed in QPM and its potential for years, and by sharing that message of hope with farming communities, we can finally widen our reach to fight malnutrition.

A woman from Andres Jiron happily balances one of the 2,000+ bags of Fortaleza seed delivered so far atop her head.

Now we have distributed almost 3,000 bags to all 25 farming communities we serve in southern Guatemala, along with partner communities around the nation. This means roughly 18,000 people will have access to the protein they need this year, plus the ability to save the seeds to plant for years to come. Our team will be checking in with our farming families and partners throughout the growing process to ensure a successful harvest this year. The movement against malnutrition in Guatemala is officially underway as families prepare to plant the seed!

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