Village headman Boyd Jimba and his family harvest maize on their farm in Mwalimo village, Lundazi district, Zambia. Photo: P. Lowe/CIMMYT
MEXICO CITY (CIMMY) – New evidence shows that not only do improved maize varieties increase crop productivity and farmer income, they can also decrease child malnutrition.
Malnutrition is the largest single factor contributing to the global disease and accounts for about 30 percent of infant deaths. Malnutrition is particularly widespread among children in Zambia, and is one of the leading contributors to the high burden of disease in the country. Around half of all Zambian children under the age of five are stunted, or too short for their age, indicating chronic malnutrition.
A recent Food Securitystudy published by scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) found that adoption of improved maize varieties significantly reduces the probability of stunting by an average of 26 percent in Zambian children.
The paper evaluated the impact of improved maize varieties with traits such as higher yields, early maturation and resistance to disease, on stunting in more than 800 households across eastern Zambia using an endogenous switching probit model to identify the determinants of child nutritional status and impact of improved maize varieties.
Researchers found that adoption of improved maize varieties held a key role in improving the income earning opportunities for rural households through increased maize yields. More maize – a staple of the Zambian diet – coupled with more money to spend on high calorie and protein foods led to a decline in malnutrition.
However, realizing the full benefits new technologies like improved maize can have on communities requires increased investment and policy support aimed at enhancing adoption by farmers, according to the study. Social dynamics and increasing education, especially among women, are particularly critical for promoting nutrition-enhancing child care practices, given that the probability of stunting was reduced by 16 percent with each additional year of schooling for the most educated female household member among adopters in the study.
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