Launching a Brand: Fortaleza

Juan Manuel “Elotón” and Noé Estrada “Don Fortaleza”, two members of our sales team — setting up for the field day.

It’s a really exciting time for us here at Semilla Nueva. We’re currently in the midst of farmer field days, where we’re showing off our newest Fortaleza corn seeds. Fortaleza is our biofortified seed brand, one of our main strategies at Semilla Nueva, that competes in the market undifferentiated from other seeds.

Fortaleza grows on its merit, drought tolerance and high yields. Additionally, it is a biofortified seed, meaning that while still being completely natural, it has 90% the protein quality of milk and 50% more zinc than normal corn.

Fortaleza 3, the particular seed we’re selling, is the first quality protein and high zinc corn to be commercially sold in the world. This seed comes from CIMMYT, one of our most important partners, and was developed in partnership with ICTA and Harvest Plus.

We don’t market our seed based on its nutritional value, but rather the value that it gives farmers. This is because nutrition isn’t a big motivator for farmers. Instead, we offer them a top-tier seed sold at a middle-tier price.

Fortaleza’s mission is to give Guatemalan families an easy and affordable way to provide the best for their children.

A group of farmers during the field day. We saw fewer and fewer arms crossed the more we told them about the high yields and low costs of Fortaleza.

Our sales team stresses this mission during our Field Days where they’re showing off test plots to farmers for them to see how well the seed grows. Scattered across the country’s main corn growing regions, we’re displaying the yields these seeds have in store — and come October, we’ll see how many purchases we get.

The most thrilling part, is that each bag we sell changes the diets of about 65 people for a year, and every three bags should statistically pull a kid out of malnutrition. The better our branding, marketing, and sales, the more cases of malnutrition we prevent. This is the first step in Semilla Nueva becoming the social enterprise we envision.

A Fortaleza banner adorning our parcels of corn.

Fortaleza, and biofortified corn in general, is our solution to the problem we felt was most pressing: malnutrition. We knew from studies and market testing that the best way to increase the adoption of biofortified corn, was to have it be seen as valuable. Instead of handing the corn out, we market and sell Fortaleza, competing on yields and price, like any other corn company would. Except for us, we know we are selling bags that can pull people out of malnutrition just by swapping the corn they eat.

Jake Weisenthal, “Maize Man”, our Co-Founder and Country Director, telling the farmers in the audience about Fortaleza’s core mission.

It’s challenging to be an NGO. There are always two groups to appease, and they don’t always align. On one end there are the donors, who need to see continual successes and their money’s impact. On the other end, are the beneficiaries, who NGOs are trying to convince to do new things. The key is to ensure there is synergy between the beneficiaries’ perceived interests, and what donors want to see.

For us, Fortaleza tackles malnutrition which is exciting for donors, while also putting more money in the pockets of farmers with its high yields and low costs.


This alignment is where we plan to stay, and where we encourage others in international development to shift closer to. The only solutions that will scale are ones that have this double value proposition, because a solution is only as good as it’s adoption.

If you want to join more of our journey, give us a follow on Facebook or Instagram. We don’t think we’ll disappoint.

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4 thoughts on “Launching a Brand: Fortaleza

  1. Love to see how SN is evolving. Its amazing that farmers don’t see the nutritional benefit as differentiation for their own crops. Regardless, I believe the marketplace offers a much bigger platform to achieve your goals of impacting malnutrition.

  2. Congratulations for the efforts and all the success.
    However, I think adoption would be higher, faster and more sustainable if the biofortification traits can be introgressed to the different landraces/races that the farmers usually grow. Characteristics like maturity time, ability to compete in polyculture, postharvest keeping capacity and taste/tortilla making qualities are as important as yield and higher nutrition quality. For example, Nal-Tel types are not quite high yielding, but they are very early and produce when the households might be running out of grain from the previous year, and before the higher yielding later varieties mature.
    It’s also important to offer diversity and also make sure the farmers keep their landraces or share them to a seedbank, as an insurance to climatic, biotic and economic pressures. At some level it could be a disaster to be too successful if most/all farmers adopt the one or few improved cultivars and all their diversity is lost.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jorge! We try to stay cognizant of all of those watch-outs and we appreciate you taking the time to share a lot of them with us. We’re working hard with our own breeding program that we just launched to test that introgression with as many local seeds as possible! Additionally, our goal is to not be the biggest seed company possible, it’s to make biofortified seeds the norm for all. As for taste, from the hundreds of people we’ve surveyed they actually enjoy the taste of our tortillas more than criollos and commercial competitors!

      If you have any more thoughts feel free to shoot us an email at and we’d love to further the discussion. Cheers!

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