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Frequently Asked Questions

If there’s something you’re still wondering about, please shoot us an email at contact@semillanueva.org. This FAQs page is continually evolving and we need your help to improve it.

Where does the seed come from originally?

The seed we are currently getting to farmers is the result of years of development of some of the world’s best scientists at organizations like CIMMYT and Harvest Plus and has been tested by local governments, along with many other groups. Semilla Nueva has participated in this process since 2013, and we’ve recently launched our own breeding efforts to develop our own seeds and further contribute to the development of more nutritious corn.

Is biofortification the one solution to malnutrition? Why doesn’t Semilla Nueva promote the adoption of other healthy foods?

One of the quickest ways to not make an impact is to try and solve too many problems at once. We absolutely think that kids everywhere should eat more fruits and vegetables. But after decades of work and billions of dollars spent to educate about better diets, in many rural areas the diet is actually getting worse. Education doesn’t necessarily change behavior. This is why we focus on making the staple food that people already eat more nutritious.

We also recognize that malnutrition is affected by many sources, and biofortification is not the one magic fix. We think it is one of the best tools in the toolbox, and we hope that we can be part of a comprehensive and more innovative strategy to fix malnutrition in contexts where other strategies haven’t worked well.

What makes your seeds more nutritious?

Our work focuses on increasing the levels of quality protein and zinc in the corn families eat. These represent two of the three most important nutritional deficiencies in the Guatemalan diet. Our corn utilizes the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) trait, which increases lysine and tryptophan levels and increases protein quality to up to 90% the level of milk and higher levels of the micronutrients zinc and iron. These traits were developed by our partners at Harvest Plus and CIMMYT.

Is your seed a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)?

Our seeds are not genetically modified but were created through conventional breeding, based on the most nutritious corn seeds found in nature and in the world’s seed banks. Semilla Nueva believes that the genetic engineering of crops offers big potential benefits for humankind. It is a technology that needs to be used safely and it shouldn’t only be controlled by the worlds’ biggest corporations. Ultimately, science is one of the critical ways we will solve the world’s biggest problems.

What does biofortified mean?

Biofortification is the breeding of crops to increase their nutritional value. Scientists evaluate the nutritional quality of many seeds in seed banks or nature to find the most nutritious ones, and then cross these with seeds that have the yield and other characteristics farmers need. It’s a long and tough process, but it leads to seeds that can make a big difference for farmers and for kids.

How do your seeds affect malnutrition?

More and more studies on high zinc and Quality Protein Maize (QPM) corn seeds are coming out every year. But what we know up to now is great. Chronic malnutrition causes its damage in the first two years of life, meaning that is our window to get kids healthier. Numerous studies have shown a 0.25 standard deviation change in the HAZ scores for groups of kids who eat QPM vs normal corn.

In contexts like ours in Guatemala, this can translate to a 20% reduction in stunted children, or more. Further the zinc in biofortified corn can be more available than zinc fortification and can provide the zinc necessary in corn heavy diets. There are dozens of studies published, but here are a few of our favorites:

Is Semilla Nueva helping farmers deal with climate change?

Yes, as shown in the photo below, our seeds, the corn plants on the right, are more drought-resistant than many of the local or competitor seeds.

Climate change is going to affect nutrition globally (cited here, and here). We need to compensate for that by making crops more nutritious. It helps combat malnutrition now and creates a buffer for the impacts climate change will have on the future.

Are you guys making money from this seed?

While at first, Semilla Nueva mainly focused on programs to give seed away, in 2018, using seeds developed with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Semilla Nueva launched the world’s first commercially competitive, biofortified maize seed in Guatemala. Semilla Nueva made the decision to enter into commercial seeds because it will allow us to generate the funds to reach more people as well as become more financially sustainable. Our seed sales help us defray costs and reduce the need for donations.

Why do you need donations?

Semilla Nueva is a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise. While we are developing a profitable leg that will help us become sustainable in the long term, we are still primarily reliant on donations to develop and get more nutritious corn seeds to families throughout Guatemala.