Status Columbia: First Zinc-Enriched Maize Released


Source: CIMMYT

The first zinc-enriched maize variety developed for South America was released in Colombia Feb. 23 in an effort to combat malnutrition in the country.

Developed using traditional breeding techniques, this biofortified maize has naturally higher concentrations of zinc. It is estimated that in some regions of Colombia, up to 50 percent of the population is zinc deficient.

The new variety, known as BIO-MZN01, was developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) with support from HarvestPlus, the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

“The support that CIMMYT and CIAT have received from HarvestPlus has been fundamental in allowing our researchers to develop crops with enhanced vitamin and mineral content,” says Martin Kropff, CIMMYT director general.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 6.6 percent of the population of Latin America, or 42 million people, suffer from malnutrition. Biofortified crop varieties such as maize with enriched zinc content seek to reduce malnutrition by making micronutrients more bioavailable. In Colombia, zinc deficiency affects around 22 percent of the population.

BIO-MZN01 contains 36 percent more zinc on average than other maize varieties, meaning that arepas (a maize-based Colombian staple food) made of this new variety offers consumers five times more zinc than those made with traditional varieties. Additionally, BIO-MZN01 can yield up to 6 to 8 tons per hectare (t/ha), nearly double the national average in Colombia of 3.7 t/ha and is resistant to several maize diseases that are common in the region, including rust, turcicum leaf blight and gray leaf spot. It can be grown between 0 and 1,400 meters above sea level during both cropping seasons in the country.

“This is incredible news for the food and nutritional security of all Colombians. It is also an excellent opportunity to share the positive results that can be achieved by teamwork and partnerships such as the work we are doing with HarvestPlus, CIAT, seed companies such as Maxi Semillas S.A.S and of course, with farmers,” says Luis Narro, maize breeder at CIMMYT Colombia.

For Marilia Nutti, the regional director for Latin America and the Carribean at HarvestPlus, the release of this new biofortified variety is the result of “a joint effort we began in 2012, that was only made possible by the trail blazed by the research of several CIMMYT scientists long ago. Together, we have worked to turn maize, a staple food in the region, into a tool capable of reducing zinc deficiency in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and several regions of Colombia.”

The scientific work conducted at CIMMYT, HarvestPlus and CIAT reaches the hands of farmers through local seed companies such as Maxi Semillas S.A.S., a partner of CIMMYT Colombia for the past 40 years that will be commercializing the new variety. 

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