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SUPER WOMAN: Jennifer Brito’s “tortillas verdes” improve maize nutritional value


Jennifer BritoInternational Women’s Day on March 8, offers an opportunity to recognize the achievements of women worldwide. This year, CIMMYT asked readers to submit stories about women they admire for their selfless dedication to either maize or wheat. In the following story, Haley Kirk writes about her Super Woman of Maize, Jennifer Brito, food security coordinator at Semilla Nueva.

As the Food Security Coordinator at Semilla Nueva, Jennifer Brito works with women in 10 coastal Guatemalan communities to improve the livelihoods, nutrition, and all-around well-being of their families.

Jen has been with Semilla Nueva, a non-governmental organization developing locally-led farmer education programs to alleviate poverty and boost food security, for almost a year and a half.

During that time, her work has involved promoting several varieties of quality protein maize (QPM) with families in our communities. High-yielding QPM, which was developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in the 1990s, contains almost double the protein of other maize varieties grown in the tropics.

Additionally, Jen is leader of a study Semilla Nueva is undertaking an evaluation of the impact of QPM on malnutrition in Guatemala.

Jen has taught her participants how to make various recipes, including green tortillas, which use local herbs and QPM to transform the nutritionally empty tortilla into a vessel containing extra protein and vitamins.

To create “tortillas verdes” she worked with locally-grown, micronutrient-rich chaya, chipilín, and hierbamora leaves. She boiled a large amount of leaves and mixed the cooked leaves together with a nixtamal alkaline solution, which helps improve nutritional value. At the mill, the corn was combined with the herbs to create green corn dough.

Jen’s work with women in rural Guatemalan communities is key to the successful promotion, adoption, and evaluation of high protein corn varieties that could potentially lift Guatemala out of its position as the most malnourished country in the western hemisphere.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.