In Zambia, 54 percent of children are Vitamin A-deficient; a condition resulting in poor eyesight, low immunity, and high rates of mortality. The HarvestPlus Challenge Program is hoping to rectify this situation through the development and widespread adoption of orange maize varieties containing provitamin A carotenoids that the body converts to Vitamin A. The orange maize not only provides vital nutrients, it is also tasty and especially appealing to children because of its distinctive color.
However, consumers need reassurance that orange maize contains the quantities of carotenoids claimed by producers. “Zambia does not currently have the capacity to undertake carotenoid testing in its laboratories. Samples of orange maize were always sent to Mexico for provitamin A carotenoid analysis,” stated Eliab Simpugwe, HarvestPlus Zambia country manager. “Though this is now set to change with the support from CIMMYT Mexico laboratories,” he added.
Two Zambians have been trained in Mexico and follow-up training in Zambia was conducted with ten other participants from the Tropical Disease Research Centre (TDRC), Ndola, and the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), Lusaka. Octavio Custodio (who was in Zambia from 11-16 June 2012), a research assistant in the CIMMYT maize quality lab enjoyed sharing technical details of the process with his Zambian colleagues, and said he “remains optimistic on their capacity to fine-tune these methods in their labs.”
The capacity building will continue in 2013 with an inter-laboratory proficiency test in which both TDRC and ZARI will participate to have their laboratories certified. “There is great interest from other crop-projects in Zambia to have carotenoid analysis performed in laboratories in-country instead of shipping samples to other countries for analysis,” said Fabiana DeMoura, HarvestPlus nutrition coordinator.
The provitamin A maize breeding program in Zambia will also benefit as their pipeline material will be analyzed in house. “The challenge remains to prove and sustain this service in order to be part of a solution to nutrition and agricultural productivity of the region,” said Tembo Howard, lab manager at ZARI and one of the trainees.