Hannah Guedenet, Communications Specialist, HarvestPlus
I often hear stories about “risk takers” who go against the grain, but I rarely get to see them in action. So I was surprised when I recently found myself in the middle of a Zambian maize field standing face-to-face with a risk taker. His name is Benard Mudenda. On the surface, all he’s doing is growing maize. But when you take a closer look, you can actually see the risk—his maize is orange.
Wearing a bright orange shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, Benard’s smile is contagious. He happily welcomes visitors crowded around his plot of orange maize and explains that he had never heard of orange maize until the day agriculture extension officer Christopher Kwesela told him about a new variety being tested in Zambia. Christopher explained that the new variety was special because it had higher levels of vitamin A.
As a farmer in Zambia, Benard’s main concern is that the maize on his land is high yielding, grows quickly, and can resist drought and disease. He also needs to have enough maize to feed his family and have some left over to sell or trade. Why would he risk his livelihood and the well-being of his family on the new variety, just because it’s rich in vitamin A? Christopher explained that vitamin A is important for the health of his family, particularly his wife and children. Lack of vitamin A among women and children is a major problem that can lead to blindness, increased illness, and sometimes death.
Foods like pumpkin, mangos, and green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin A, but most Zambians do not have access to these foods on a daily basis. They do, however, rely on maize for at least 2 meals a day in the form of nshima, a maize porridge. The target for orange maize is to provide up to 50% of an adult woman’s daily vitamin A needs.
Benard decided to take the plunge and “go orange.” He agreed to plant two vitamin A varieties on a small portion of his land. Given the big smile and beautiful ears of orange maize he proudly shows off, it’s easy to tell that so far he doesn’t regret taking the risk.
“It is the best of all the varieties that we normally plant in this area because of the vitamin A,” Benard tells farmers from neighboring areas who visit his farm. He shows his field, answers questions, and even provides a tasting of a roasted orange cob. His wife will be the first to remind you that her husband is not the only risk taker in the household. He might be the one who welcomes the visitors and answers their questions, but she is the one who digs the holes and plants the seeds, and then weeds, waters, and harvests the maize.
Orange maize is set to be officially released in Zambia later this year thanks in big part to Benard and all the other risk takers who are leading the way.
To get a closer look at farmer field days in Zambia, check out this video: http://bit.ly/maizefielddayvideo.