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Semilla Nueva: An example of how international development can work 

On March 6, US Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made opening remarks at a full committee hearing on global food security, discussing the world’s collective failure to tackle this persistent problem, and named Semilla Nueva’s collaboration with USAID as an example of what is needed to improve US foreign aid.

Risch shared data on the extent of the global food security crisis, which, despite billions of dollars spent annually by the US and other countries, leaves 783 million people around the globe suffering from food shortage, 333 million facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 47 million people on the brink of famine. “These are not just statistics. They are actual people,” Risch said.

Risch explained that new partnerships and approaches to US foreign assistance are needed to overcome long-standing problems such as unclear objectives and excessive bureaucracy of US foreign aid. He singled out Semilla Nueva’s approach as one that works:

On the development side, we need to work more closely with the private sector to bring innovations to scale. I recently saw an Idaho-based company, Semilla Nueva, won a USAID grant to enhance the quality and adoption of bio-fortified maize in Latin America. We should see more of this type of collaboration” – US Senator Jim Risch

Semilla Nueva has developed a market-based approach to fight malnutrition and rural poverty in countries where maize is the staple. We breed maize seeds with high levels of zinc, iron, and protein, and yields approaching some of the best seeds on the market. We produce these seeds in partnership with local seed companies and work with governments to implement seed subsidies to make the seeds available to the poorest of the poor. According to Semilla Nueva’s CEO, Curt Bowen, small farming families in Guatemala, 70% of whom live on less than a dollar a day per person, choose these seeds because of their yields and resilience to drought and storms. “Farmers switching to our seeds earn an average of $180 while helping their families and other maize consumers eliminate or significantly reduce major nutritional deficiencies.”

The USAID collaboration cited by Richter is a project through which USAID Guatemala and Semilla Nueva are co-designing a national subsidy program to be managed jointly by the Guatemalan Government, local seed producers, and Semilla Nueva. If funded, the project will help us reach 40,000 farmers who will improve the nutrition of over 1.5 million people. The project involves a “fixed amount award,” meaning Semilla Nueva will receive funding in blocks based on achieving milestones and results (seed produced, seed sold, families reached, etc.) instead of the traditional cost reimbursement approach, which requires intensive reporting and paperwork and delays. This is just one example of the efficiencies Risch was referring to in his remarks.

Partnerships and an ongoing commitment to searching for efficiencies and improving the way we get things done are key to our strategy. We are excited to focus on our first national subsidy in Guatemala, as we work to expand our model to El Salvador this year and Honduras next year, and test seeds with partners in Africa in 2026. This progress would not be possible without the growing family of donors, mentors, and partners who make our work possible.