A group of scientists have established for the first time that ‘orange’ maize, a new variety of maize, is a good source of vitamin A, which means that it is a variety bred to improve nutrition and could provide vitamin A through the diet to millions of poor people at risk of vitamin A deficiency.
Dr. Wendy White of Iowa State University, who headed the study, said “Traditionally, white maize porridge is a popular food among children and adults” and that “It’s even, usually, the first solid food given to infants.”
She disclosed that during the research the team of scientists prepared the orange maize porridge in using traditional African methods in order to best approximate a real world situation.
A statement announcing the find by the scientists said vitamin A deficiency blinds up to 500,000 children annually and increases the risk of disease and death, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that many people in that region are too poor to afford expensive vitamin A-rich foods such as orange fruits, dark leafy vegetables, or meat.
It continued that because those children in sub-Saharan Africa with vitamin A deficiency eat large amounts of white maize - up to a pound daily, orange maize could provide a substantial portion of their vitamin A needs.
Commenting on the research finding, Dr. Erik Boy, Nutrition Head of HarvestPlus, a programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which supported the development of the maize, said “We are encouraged that this higher conversion ratio has been scientifically established.”
“In 2012, we plan to release orange maize in Zambia, in areas where almost half of children under five remain at risk of vitamin A deficiency,” he disclosed.
“This new finding means that we should be able to provide far more dietary vitamin A through orange maize than previously thought possible. We’re looking at up to 30% of the daily requirement for children from two to six years old and 40% of the daily requirement for women of child bearing age,” he said.
The maize was bred using conventional means (non-GMO) to have higher levels of beta-carotene, which gives it its orange colour. The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. The study found that beta-carotene from orange maize was converted at a rate that was almost twice as high as previously assumed for maize which is the world’s third most important cereal crop, and even higher than from vegetables.
HarvestPlus is developing micronutrient-rich staple food crops that can reduce hidden hunger in poorer countries and is co-convened by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute