Nutrition Commission calls for adoption of orange maize

ORANGE maize should be adopted in Zambia as a diet aimed at improving vitamin-A in children, says the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC).

This follows a study which has established that “orange” maize increases vitamin A storage in the body because it has higher levels of beta-carotene, a natural plant pigment that the body converts into Vitamin-A.

The study, which has been done in collaboration with Harvest Plus and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was part of the commemorations of the World Food Day which fell yesterday.

Lead scientist Sherry Tanumihardjo said there was a significant increase in vitamin-A in children after eating orange maize, adding that this would be effective in reducing vitamin-A deficiency in the population

Ms. Tanumihardjo added that the conversion of beta-carotene into Vitamin-A was not harmful to health as the body regulates during the process.

And NFNC acting executive director, Musonda Mofu, said food-based approaches such as orange maize could provide people, particularly women and children, with a good portion of vitamin-A which was crucial for their health.

Mr. Mofu said this would be through intake of nshima or other traditional foods made from maize that Zambians ate every day.

She affirmed that vitamin-A deficiency remained a challenge in several parts of the country.

“There are still many pockets where vitamin-A deficiency remained a problem in Zambia. For us, this is cost-effective and a safe approach to improving nutrition,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harvest Plus country manager Eliab Simpungwe said his organisation targeted to provide orange maize varieties to at least 100,000 farmers by 2015.

Mr. Simpungwe said orange maize had been bred specifically for human consumption and was not the same as yellow maize which was popular as feed for animals.

“When consumers have had a chance to taste orange nshima, they prefer it to white nshima. And when they also understand the benefits of vitamin-A in the diet, they are all the more enthusiastic about orange maize,” he said.

The Zambian Government was the first to release orange maize varieties in Africa and has supported Harvest Plus in its efforts to provide orange maize to more than 10,000 farming households.

The Orange maize study has been published under the title “Bio-fortified orange maize is as efficacious as a vitamin-A supplement in Zambian children even in the presence of high liver reserves of vitamin-A: a community-based, randomized placebo-controlled trial”.