Two new maize varieties that contain high levels of beta-carotene – the precursor of vitamin A – have been released in Nigeria, offering hope against the menace of vitamin A deficiency plaguing millions in the country. Beta-carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A when the maize is consumed, thereby boosting the immune system.
The hybrids, which are the first generation provitamin A-rich maize, were released on 4 July 2012 by Nigeria’s National Variety Release Committee as ‘Ife maizehyb 3’ and ‘Ife maizehyb 4’. They are recognized as IITA hybrids A0905-28 and A0905-32, respectively.
“The hybrids are a product of nearly a decade of targeted breeding for enhanced levels of provitamin A,” says Dr. Abebe Menkir, maize breeder with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), who led the project that developed the new maize hybrids.
Menkir added that apart from being nutritious, the maize hybrids are also high yielding, producing 6 to 9 tons of the crop per hectare. In Nigeria, local maize varieties commonly grown by farmers produce only about 2 tons per hectare.
The new maize varieties are well suited to the tropical lowlands typical of many West African countries and are expected to spread beyond Nigeria’s borders.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, a member of the CGIAR Consortium, developed the provitamin A hybrids through conventional breeding in partnership with the Institute of Agricultural Research & Training in a project funded by HarvestPlus—a Challenge Program of CGIAR. Other partners include the Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria; University of Maiduguri; CIMMYT, University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin.
190 million children and 19 million pregnant women globally suffer debilitating vitamin A deficiency. Approximately 670,000 children die every year because they are vitamin A–deficient, with another 350,000 going blind– making it the leading cause of blindness amongst children. In pregnant women, vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness and increases the risk of death during or shortly after pregnancy.Vitamin A deficiency is most severe in countries where people primarily consume micronutrient-poor staple foods and where other nutritious food is scarce, unavailable, or too expensive.
This report is adapted from an article in the CGIAR Conortium website.