Ensuring quality control of nutritious maize by enhancing analytical capacity
by Natalia Palacios / November 4, 2015
Development and deployment of nutritious maize with higher protein quality (i.e., high content of essential amino acids such as lysine and tryptophan) or high provitamin A content is part of the work we do with partners to help alleviate malnutrition. However, laboratory analyses are required to ensure that the grain used by consumers has increased nutritional quality.
Low laboratory staff turnover is crucial to consistently produce high quality results from routine analyses. Equally important is the need for specialized, dedicated, and highly trained and motivated staff.
During 2015, CIMMYT’s Maize Quality Laboratory expanded its activities to enhance analytical capacity, especially in those countries where biofortified crops are already on the market. We aim to contribute to control the quality of the products that reach consumers, as well as ensure the sustainability of biofortification programs in target countries.
To strength laboratory skills, abilities, processes, and resources, our capacity building strategy includes the development of robust and simple methods to monitor the nutritious components in maize and conduct hands-on training. This training is done at the laboratory at CIMMYT or in the target country. We also develop detailed laboratory manuals and video tutorials of the methodologies and provide follow-up support to help trainees implement the knowledge and skills they acquire. As a result, the trainees learn the critical steps in the various processes, as well as how to avoid errors and use different types of equipment. This also gives both trainers and trainees the opportunity to identify common areas of improvement and to get the best out of the infrastructure and equipment available.
Zambian Agriculture Research Institute’s Laboratory will serve as a regional service lab for maize carotenoid analysis
CIMMYT, in collaboration with HarvestPlus, conducted two capacity building activities at the Zambian Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) in 2015. These activities were critical to the efforts of HarvestPlus and partners in conjunction with plant breeders, the food industry, and other stakeholders in Zambia to develop value chains of biofortified crops high in provitamin A.
Carotenoids are degraded in the presence of light, oxygen, and heat. Post-harvest carotenoid degradation in orange biofortified maize can occur when samples are packaged at room temperature and sent for analysis overseas. The alternative of shipping samples on dry ice to avoid degradation would be very costly on a routine basis. As Fabiana De Moura, HarvestPlus nutritionist, points out, “Conducting the analyses in country is crucial from the degradation/technical point of view. But what really matters is the acquired capacity in country to accurately measure provitamin A carotenoids in maize and other biofortified crops, such as sweet potato, that are currently being deployed in Zambia.”
According to Victor Taleon, food scientist at HarvestPlus, “Before the development of the capacities at ZARI, it was impossible to conduct reliable analyses of provitamin A carotenoids in Zambia. Now, with the improved capacities, ZARI will also function as a regional service lab where national breeding programs of neighboring countries, agroindustrial companies, and other partners can submit samples of different products to analyze their carotenoid content.” This will help maintain the ability of the ZARI laboratory to analyze carotenoids, the lack of which is the main challenge of most capacity building efforts in developing countries.
Ethiopia’s agriculture quality research laboratory upgraded to support QPM R&D
Lysine and tryptophan analysis, which requires rigorous quality control at different levels, is essential for researching, producing, and using quality protein maize (QPM). The Nutritious Maize for Ethiopia (NuME) project aims to increase QPM productivity, dissemination, and adoption in the country, thereby alleviating malnutrition. As part of project activities, NuME has upgraded the Ethiopian Institute for Agriculture Research (EIAR) laboratory in Addis Ababa to be able to analyze seed/grain quality as required in QPM R&D and offer its services to researchers, seed producers, and grain consumers (industrial, commercial, and domestic). In 2014-2015, the lab conducted two training courses to support standardizing tryptophan analysis in maize using both wet chemistry and near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS).
NuME project leader Adefris Teklewold commented that by investing in hardware and chemical procurement, developing skills through training, and calibrating and standardizing procedures, the lab is now in a position to analyze tryptophan content with high precision. Consequently, both its NIRS and wet chemistry data are now very highly correlated with results obtained by CIMMYT’s Maize Quality Lab in Mexico. The lab is also in the position to help national QPM breeding efforts and facilitate quality control of QPM seed, grain, and products. This service is available at a lower cost and less time, to all those in Ethiopia who are involved in QPM breeding, production, milling, and marketing. Beyond QPM, the lab’s improved procedures could also help enhance quality and nutrition R4D of other biofortified crops such as high Zn wheat, provitamin A maize, and high Zn maize.