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Cultivating Healthier Communities With Provitamin A Maize Varieties

By Kudzanai Chimhanda

In Murehwa District, situated in Zimbabwe’s grain basket in the eastern part of the country, vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in almost all households, regardless of their wealth, reveals a study striving to quantify the nutritional yields of provitamin A maize across a diverse range of smallholder farms in Zimbabwe and to understand the potential role of improved agronomy in increasing nutritional yields. Published in the Journal of Nutrition, the study is part of a collaborative project between CIMMYT and Rothamsted Research, funded by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund, administered by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The study revealed that vitamin A deficiency is most prevalent in the wet seasons when the number of people within a household is higher. Using a range of realistic provitamin A concentration levels, modelling showed that the consumption of provitamin A maize could ensure that almost three-quarters of households reach 50% of their vitamin A requirement.

“This study highlights how provitamin A maize could make a real difference in vitamin A intake of smallholder farmers in rural areas of Zimbabwe,” said Frédéric Baudron, the lead author of this study. “And the impact could be even higher as greater gains are made through breeding and supported by better agronomy, a key determinant of nutrient concentration in the grain produced.”

Thirty households participated in the study, quantifying the composition of their diet across the main agricultural (wet) season and off (dry) season. A market study of locally available food was also conducted at the same time. In Murehwa District, almost 80% of the population is engaged in small-scale agriculture as their primary livelihood and stunting rates have increased over the past decade in this district, in sharp contrast to the rest of Zimbabwe.

Though maize is a dietary staple widely consumed in various forms in Zimbabwe, vitamin A deficiency exerts a heavy toll on people’s health, particularly in rural communities where its impact is most keenly felt. The consequences, ranging from preventable blindness in children to heightened maternal mortality rates and reduced immune function, emphasize the urgency of sustainable interventions.

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