2024 Kirby Prize Winner: Semilla Nueva

We are pleased to announce that Semilla Nueva is the 2024 winner of the F. M. Kirby Prize for Scaling Impact. This award recognizes a social enterprise working to scale its impact on social or environmental problems around the world.

Announcing the 2024 Kirby Prize Winner: Semilla Nueva

The Problem Semilla Nueva is Working to Address

Globally, more than one billion people consume maize three times a day. Maize, while being the most affordable option for most of these families, has a poor nutritional profile – significantly contributing to malnutrition in countries where it is a staple.  The development of biofortified maize, which dramatically increases the nutrient profile, has the potential to reduce malnutrition – but its wide-scale adoption has been limited because early biofortified seeds were not competitive in terms of yields, companies lacked financial incentives to undertake the expensive process of developing and launching a new seed, and the costs of seeds were beyond the means of the small farmers who needed them most.  Semilla Nueva focuses on overcoming these barriers, and aligning incentives along the value chain to bring biofortified, high-yield maize seeds to smallholder farmers.

Guatemalan girl holding biofortified maize. Photo courtesy of Semilla Nueva.

Why We’re Excited About Semilla Nueva’s Impact Potential

Semilla Nueva has improved upon existing technology to develop maize seeds that not only have a strong nutritional profile, but also exceed the yield and climate resilience of the most popular seeds on the market for smallholder farmers – starting first in Guatemala. Working on both the supply-side and demand-side of the equation, Semilla Nueva has provided financial incentives to seed companies to ensure distribution of the seeds at competitive prices as well as demonstrating increased ROI – particularly with respect to yields and thus incomes – for farmers using the seeds.

  • Traction & Impact in Guatemala. In 2023 in Guatemala, Semilla Nueva reported 24,500 farmer families planting biofortified seeds (feeding an estimated 825,000 individuals), and an average increase in income of 88% ($182) for those farmers.  The organization’s studies have found that 62% of mothers and 53% of children in families producing the biofortified maize consume enough to fully close their zinc deficiency gaps; other studies have also found the protein in biofortified maize leads to increases in height and weight gain in children, and significant reductions in child stunting.
  • Strategic leveraging of partners, infrastructure, technology.  Semilla Nueva is laser-focused on removing the barriers to getting high yield, biofortified seeds into the hands of smallholder farmers, and thus adapts its approach in each new country and as technology evolves to identify and address the specific barriers that exist. This means that Semilla Nueva plays a different role, and leverages the inputs of different partners, in each location – and continues to evolve and adapt as the ecosystem changes.
  • Demand from NGOs, governments. Semilla Nueva is currently responding to demand for its biofortified seed and value chain integration process in El Salvador, Honduras, and East Africa. Additionally, government and multilateral partners are exploring contributing to the seed subsidies which are currently a critical part of the process.
Smallholder farmer growing biofortified maize in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Semilla Nueva.

The Plan to Achieve Impact at Scale

Over the next two years, Semilla Nueva aims to reach 40,000 farmers (feeding one million people) in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and to lay the groundwork for scaling throughout East Africa.  By 2031, Semilla Nueva expects to reach 500,000 farmers (feeding 15 million people). To achieve these goals, Semilla Nueva is planning to deploy the following strategies:

  • Continuing investment in R&D and new technologies. Semilla Nueva will continue improving the yields and nutritional profile of emerging hybrid seeds and work to incorporate technologies, such as gene editing, to make the process faster and cheaper.
  • Testing and rolling out adapted model in East Africa. Semilla Nueva is currently developing new biofortified seeds adapted to East African climates and farmer preferences, and will continue to work with one of the regions’ largest, deeply embedded smallholder-farmer serving organizations to test and incorporate biofortified maize seeds into their supply chain.
  • Support establishment of national subsidy programs. Semilla Nueva will continue working with Central American governments and their bilateral and multilateral aid partners toestablish and fund the seed subsidy program.

Learn more about Semilla Nueva