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Unlocking the Potential of Biofortified Maize

From left to right: Hugo Chinchilla (Evaluation Technician), Ricardo Ortiz (R&D Associate Manager) and Enrique Kreff (Breeding Director) collect data in an experimental plot at Semilla Nueva’s experimental farm.

As a relatively small nonprofit, Semilla Nueva may seem an unlikely player in the world of advanced crop breeding. Dr. Enrique Kreff, Semilla Nueva’s Director of Research and Development, explains, “We do it because nobody else has developed biofortified maize seeds that can truly compete in the market. We specialize in breeding nutritious, biofortified maize seeds that outperform seeds used by 97% of Guatemalan farmers in terms of yields, climate resilience, appearance, and even taste.”

Enrique joined Semilla Nueva in May of this year. He previously spearheaded the Argentinian government’s maize breeding program and then spent nearly two decades in the private sector leading Pioneer’s maize breeding in Argentina, developing or testing the seeds responsible for over 30% of Argentina’s maize production. Enrique’s expertise includes unraveling the genetic makeup behind specific traits, like resistance to certain pests or diseases, and using those genes to improve new seeds for the market.

Initially, Semilla Nueva worked closely with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to produce and distribute biofortified maize hybrids developed by CIMMYT. Now that we are launching our own, internally developed hybrids, CIMMYT continues to serve as an essential source of technical advice.

According to Enrique, “Our technical network also includes scientists in the private sector and academia, and a Board of Advisors comprised of some of the world’s top crop breeders. Together, we’re exploring the use of gene markers and gene editing that will drastically reduce time and costs in developing new hybrids while adhering to non-GMO standards.”

 A lot lies ahead for Semilla Nueva. In El Salvador, the government is testing our seeds for its national seed subsidy program for small farmers and in Honduras we are registering our seeds for eventual production and sale by Honduran seed companies.

Enrique adds, “We’re excited about the potential of several of our hybrids currently under development. In a few years, for the first time anywhere, we believe biofortified hybrids will match the performance of the best maize seeds available in the market—an accomplishment that will revolutionize maize production and consumption as we expand our work in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.”