Orange Maize

WASHINGTON, Sep 12, 2010 (IPS) – ‘Orange’ maize, a variety of the common cereal crop, could improve the lives of millions of malnourished people by providing increased vitamin A in their diet, according to a new study released here this week.

Vitamin A deficiency is endemic in many poor populations, causing up to 500,000 children a year to go blind and increasing the risk of other diseases and death. Sources of Vitamin A like meat, eggs, darkly coloured green vegetables, and orange fruits are generally too expensive for poor populations, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

But amongst other things, maize is a major source of everyday nutrition in the region. People consume white maize porridge in large amounts, sometimes eating as much as a half kilo a day.

Conscious of this traditional preference, researchers have bred orange maize to contain more beta-carotene, which the human body converts into vitamin A.

A recent study headed by Dr. Wendy White of the Iowa State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition discovered the new vitamin A source.

HarvestPlus, which supported the study, is a programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a World Bank-based consortium of 15 research centres worldwide devoted to enhancing agricultural productivity, particularly in developing countries.

In the study, six healthy women were given three different types of maize porridge, one of which was orange maize. The research proved that the beta-carotene from the orange maize was converted at nearly twice the rate previously assumed for maize. The findings were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this week.

“This study answered a major feasibility concern for the biofortification programme,” said White. “Plant breeders were quickly successful in ramping up the beta-carotene content in the corn, but then the question was, ‘Would it be available to be absorbed and utilized by people?'”

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