A study published early this month in the Journal of Nutrition shows that biofortified maize can meet zinc requirements and provide an effective dietary alternative to regular maize for children in vulnerable areas of rural Zambia.
“This adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the efforts of HarvestPlus, a CGIAR global effort to end hidden hunger and to which CIMMYT contributes through the development of maize and wheat with enhanced levels of vitamin A, zinc, and iron,” said Natalia Palacios, CIMMYT Maize Nutrition Quality Specialist and co-author in the study. “Maize is an important staple food for 900 million people living on less than $2 each day, but a diet rich in maize cannot always provide the nutrients needed by the body.”
Zinc plays important roles in human health, and zinc deficiencies are associated with stunting and a weak immunological system, making the malnourished more susceptible to common infections. More than 17 percent of the global population is at risk of zinc deficiency.
The study found that when the biofortified maize provided by CIMMYT was fed as a staple to Zambian children, their zinc intake was more than sufficient for their dietary needs.
The higher zinc level (34 µg zinc per gram, versus 21 µg) meant that the biofortified maize greatly outperformed the control diet, while biofortified grain was shown to be more efficient than Zn-enriched flour at getting the nutrient absorbed into the body.
This research joins another study in Zambia that revealed orange maize to be an effective way of reducing vitamin A deficiency in young children, which globally causes 500,000 to go blind each year. HarvestPlus has supplied 10,000 farming households in Zambia with orange maize, supported by government recognition of the value of biofortification in its National Food and Nutrition Strategic plan.