Seeds of hope Reducing malnutrition in Haiti

In 2017, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) sent 150 tons of new and improved maize seed to Haiti to jumpstart the development of the country’s maize seed sector, improve local food security, and decrease malnutrition. This was the largest seed shipment to any country in CIMMYT’s history.

The lack of a strong seed system is one of the main factors that holds back farm productivity. Haiti has the lowest maize yields in Latin America and the Caribbean, and around half of the population is undernourished. A crippling earthquake in 2010, a longstanding drought, and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 have exacerbated the nation’s difficulties, affecting 2 million people.

In addition to the new seed shipment, Haitian farmers and community leaders are receiving training to help their country develop a thriving maize seed sector. Recent Haitian alumni of CIMMYT trainings have now become trainers and are passing along their new knowledge.

The seed from CIMMYT comes from a maize variety developed specifically for Haiti in the 1990s using conventional breeding methods. Named “Hugo” in honor of the late CIMMYT maize breeder Hugo Córdova, the variety is well adapted to the country’s conditions and is a quality protein maize, meaning that it contains enhanced levels of lysine and tryptophan, which can decrease malnutrition and stunting among children who consume it.

Hugo Córdova (1942-2009)

The product of decades of maize research in Haiti and Latin America, Hugo quickly became a favorite among farmers. However, due to the country’s lack of a certified seed production process, yields began to decline over time and protein quality decreased.

“Farmers often sell their entire crop at harvest, leaving nothing for the next season, forcing them to plant simple maize grain that they buy from local markets rather than certified seed, which drastically reduces yield,” said Alberto Chassaigne, a maize seed system specialist at CIMMYT.

Alberto Chassaigne (l) and Reginald Toussaint, USAID food security and agroforestry specialist (r), inspect seeds in storage.

For the Haiti shipment, CIMMYT and partners developed Hugo Plus, a renewed version of Hugo that can produce up to seven tons of maize per hectare under good management, a full ton greater than the old Hugo variety.

Of the 2017 Hugo Plus shipment, 20 tons were sold to farmers at affordable prices in agricultural input boutiques established by Feed the Future (FTF) and partners, who have since been selling their harvest as seed to neighbors. The remaining 130 tons were used by CIMMYT and FTF to establish a strategic seed reserve in Haiti, offering an immediate source of seed in the event of a natural disaster.

This reserve, along with CIMMYT’s training of Haitian farmers on the importance of using seed rather than grain and how to produce seed, helps ensure that Hugo Plus and other improved varieties will continue to perform well, maintain quality, and increase food security.

Farmer Léveilllé Josette (l) during the training sessions.
“It is a great satisfaction for me to participate in this training, as I learned how to better produce maize for seeds and I will get better crops when I apply the information from this training. I will not keep this information to myself. I will meet with my organization and share the information with them.” - Josette Léveillé, a farmer participating in the trainings.

In the future, the project hopes to help consolidate the country’s emerging maize seed, with support from the newly trained seed producers and processors to ensure that the renewed Hugo remains high quality and that the strategic maize seed reserve is periodically rotated and refreshed.


This work is supported by the Feed the Future program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Sustainable Development Goals tied to work mentioned in this story. Of the 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, 10 relate directly to CGIAR activities and to CIMMYT’s mandate. The SDGs have set the pathway for the next 15 years of agricultural, social and economic development. Likewise, CGIAR has transformed its approach to ensure that its work aligns with the ambitious goals.

This story is part of CIMMYT's 2017 Annual Report.


CIMMYT Annual Report 2017. Editors-in-chief: Geneviève Renard, G. Michael Listman, Laura Strugnell. Creative Director: Clyde R. Beaver III. Layout and Design: Gerardo Mejia, Clyde R. Beaver III. Infographics/Illustrations: Gerardo Mejia. Production/Printer Liaison: Eliot Sánchez/Marcelo Ortiz. Video Promotion: Silvia Rico, Carlos Alfonso Cortés. Writers/Editors:  Rachel Cramer, Ricardo Curiel, Jennifer Johnson, G. Michael Listman, Julie Mollins, Matthew O’Leary, Geneviéve Renard, Katelyn Roett, Sam Storr. Contributors: Bekele Abeyo, Ayele Badebo, Frédéric Baudron, Carolina Camacho, Alberto Chassaigne, Kristie Drucza, Kate Fehlenberg, Terefe Fitta, Bram Govaerts, Velu Govindan, Sarah Hearne, Huntington Hobbs, Muhammad Imtiaz, M.L. Jat, Scott Justice, Victor Kommerell, Timothy Krupnik, Jelle Van Loon, Víctor López Saavedra, Cosmos Magorokosho, Kevin Pixley, B.M. Prasanna, Michael Quinn, Matthew Reynolds, Johnson Siamachira, Arturo Silva Hinojosa, Sam Storr, Kashif Syed, Ghulam Ullah. Photographers: Alfonso Cortés, Xochiquetzal Fonseca, Apollo Habtamu/ILRI, Peter Lowe, Johnson Siamachira, Sam Storr, CIMMYT Archives. Spark Page production: Sam Storr.

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