Frequently Asked Questions

If there’s something you’re still wondering about, please shoot us an email at This FAQs page is continually evolving and we need your help to better 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 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 doubles lysine and tryptophan levels and increases protein quality to 90% the level of milk (which was designed by CIMMYT) and high zinc, which is currently in development by Harvest Plus, CIMMYT and other partners.

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.

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

How do you calculate your impact on chronic malnutrition?

For us, everything is about impact—how effectively we can, and will be able to, make real measurable impacts in human lives. We believe less in ideology and much more in numbers. We calculate impact in the following way:

From all the randomly controlled effectiveness trials that have already been done, we know that if a kid under two years of age, living in a rural area that with a diet that depends on corn, switches from normal corn to QPM, we have a statistical probability to reduce malnutrition. Based on our talks with various experts, and a review of the literature, we estimate 0.25 SD change in the HAZ scores. In populations like where we work in Guatemala, that change means that instead of 50% of kids being malnourished, we can drop that number to roughly 40%. That’s a net reduction of 20%. In other words, if 10 kids eat our corn, 1 out of 10 additional kids will escape malnutrition. This is an excellent outcome in the world of nutrition and comparable to many other interventions.

So, we can calculate how many families grow our seed, how many kids they have, and then make an estimation.

In addition, we can look at how much grain our farmers sell into the market, and estimate how much will be eaten by kids under two, and then estimate impact.

There are a few complicating factors:

  1. Our new seeds are both QPM and high zinc. Zinc is also deficient in the diet and can have an impact in malnutrition. We estimate that with corn that is both QPM and high zinc, these numbers should go up.
  2. All of the literature studies focuses on kids under two, but there should be some impact on pregnant women and kids over two as well. This should make our numbers go up.
  3. But—our numbers, for now, assume that consumers will change 100% of their diet to QPM, and unfortunately many will only change half of their diet, or 25% of their diet. Given that, we don’t know how the grain produced from our seed will be mixed into the market, we don’t know how many people will eat exactly how much, and impacts for nutritional interventions are often not proportional. This will make our numbers go down.

So, we have a working estimate. One of our goals over the following years is for our monitoring and evaluation team to work with experts at Harvard, Harvest Plus, and others to find a better way to calculate impact in Guatemala, as well as run studies on the specific populations we’re working with. These studies are expensive, like half a million dollars expensive, so if you want to help us out, please let us know!

There are NGOs that are more focused on the compelling photos and videos than on their impact calculations. We see this as the old way to do development, and we want to be part of the new. If we don’t have the numbers on our side, we should be doing something different. If we aren’t the most effective way for philanthropy dollars to become changes in human lives, then that money should go elsewhere. We’re motivated by our hearts, but our heads guide everything we do.

Is Semilla Nueva helping farmers deal with climate change?

Firstly, yes, look at the photo below. Our seeds, the corn plants on the right, are more drought resistant than many of the local or competitor’s seeds.

Secondly, 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 in previous years, Semilla Nueva has mainly focused on programs to give seed away, we are launching our first commercial seed in 2017. It’s far higher yielding and will compete with the other seeds farmers buy annually. 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 seeds will help us defray costs and reduce the need for donations.

Why do you need donations?

Semilla Nueva is a 501(c)3 social venture. 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 seed to families throughout Guatemala.

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