A new kind of corn for Guatemala

A new kind of corn for Guatemala

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Nearly 700,000 families in Guatemala grow and depend on corn for 80% of their diet. At the same time, 50% of their children suffer from severe malnutrition. Simply by changing even part of the corn families are growing and eating to Quality Protein Maize, we can cut Guatemalan malnutrition in half

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Guatemalan malnutrition is caused by overconsumption of corn and underconsumption of key nutrients. Poverty forces families to eat what is cheap: corn from their farm. While the importance of protein is understood, it’s often too expensive. Malnourishment impairs cognitive development and productivity in children, leaving communities in more poverty. Farmers are looking for a cheap and easy way to get their kids the nutrients they need.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Quality Protein Maize (QPM) is a variety of corn conventionally bred to be a complete protein, containing 90% of the protein in milk. Corn is the most important crop and food in Guatemala, so a simple switch of seed can completely change the nutrition of the tortillas children eat 3 times a day. Studies from Africa to Mexico have revealed that consumption of QPM radically alters malnutrition rates, increasing average growth rates by 10% in one year and helping stunted children catch up to normal development. Farmers save a portion of their seeds to replant the following year, growing a solution to malnutrition on their own land.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The average rural family in Guatemala grows corn to feed 4-6 children, of which at least half are suffering from malnutrition. Planting and growing QPM in place of their normal corn is the equivalent of giving each child 740 power bars per year We help farmers plant and harvest QPM, and work with women’s groups to cook it in local recipes. With good open-pollination varieties, farmers save seeds to plant next year’s crop and share with their neighbors. After only one year, families notice the difference in children’s energy, concentration and growth rates.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Millions of dollars have been invested in food aid and fortified food packets that are costly and unsustainable in the long term - the result is a 0.5% change in malnutrition rates in the last 40 years. By listening to farmers’ needs for the last 4 years we’ve realized what they want: a culturally-relevant technology and a seed they can save. Developing and promoting open-pollination QPM means farmers don’t alter their cultural diet, grow their own solution on their own land, and save their seed year after year for an essentially free solution.
About You
Semilla Nueva
About You
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About Your Project
Organization Name

Semilla Nueva

Organization Country

, QZ

Country where this project is creating social impact

, RE

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Your Solution
Founding Story: Share a story about the “Aha!” moment that led you to get started and/or to see the potential for this to succeed.

Travelling through Guatemala is a lot like driving through Iowa —corn is king. While it may drive the local economy, it’s lack of nutrients leads to poor local diets, which are the major cause of malnutrition. While lamenting this fact with some of the world’s leading corn breeders in Mexico, they told me about a solution that’s working in Africa and their need for partners in Guatemala. Instead of making farmers dependent on outside aid or promoting new and unfamiliar crops, QPM could help turn corn from a problem into a solution. This dream became a reality when we introduced QPM to farmers who received it enthusiastically, women who loved cooking with it, and local children who loved the taste.

Select Sector(s): To which of Unilever's categories of sustainability does your solution apply?


Measurable Impact
Audience: Who have you identified as your customers/recipients and why? How will you get your solution to them or engage them in your initiative?

Collaborative studies with partner communities revealed that 78% of their children have stunted growth from malnutrition, and farmers agree that QPM is the most effective and culturally-accepted solution. We help families try QPM on a small scale in their field and in their kitchen, and then scale up. Families give back by sharing results with neighbors and other organizations so we can continually find better ways to meet farmers’ needs.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date and expected impact in the future?

In 2013 we planted QPM with 2700 families - an equivalent nutrient impact of 77,000 tubs of protein powder mix for malnourished children. The biggest impact has been farmer interest: with evident benefits after only a year, nearly all families want to grow more next year. In 2014 we plan to monitor growth rates for children under 5, strengthening evidence to support scaling QPM throughout the country. At a recent conference hosted by HarvestPlus, our yield data and farmer reports influenced INCAP (Institute of Nutrition in Central America and Panama) to commit to developing better QPM varieties and getting them to more farmers. With appropriate funding and partnerships we believe QPM could reach the 780,000 corn-producing families looking for a solution, and as proven in Ghana, Guatemala could halve it’s rate of malnutrition.

Growth, Finance & Leadership
Scaling the Solution: How do you intend to scale your activities over the next two years (e.g., reach new markets, diversify solutions, etc.)? What will make this possible?

Our farmers have identified 2 challenges to scaling QPM: increasing yields and promoting varieties that allow seed saving. In 2014 we’ll continue working with research partners like CIMMYT and the Guatemalan Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology to develop the best high-yielding, open-pollination varieties for Guatemala. We’ll continue working with on-the ground partners like World Food Program and Caritas to disseminate seed, with aims to reach 10,000 farmers over the next 2 years. We believe we have appropriate partnerships with farmers and organizations to lay a foundation for QPM in Guatemala. Prize money will give us resources to experiment with new varieties and the staff required to double our reach next year.

Financial Sustainability: What is your business model to ensure financial sustainability?

We seek financial support from a wide range of sources. Foundational grants help pay salaries of required staff to adequately disseminate seed to farmers, and current partnerships with research institutions help offset the cost of seed by providing some of it for free. In the long run project costs will be minimal once farmers have the seed and understand the benefits, as they can save and replant every year.

Experience: Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

I helped found Semilla Nueva in 2009. As Executive Director I have been a part of the inaugural Ignite Good class, an Ashoka Emerging Innovator, and a speaker and policy consultant at several conferences in Latin America. My values and dedication have earned mentors and partners from some of the most respected agricultural development organizations including CIMMYT and ICRISAT, whom have all played key roles in this project.