Changing lives, seed by seed.
By Elle Parker
Photos by Sarah Caroline Müller
As a student at Centennial High School and Boise State, Curt Bowen was always strongly involved in activism and aspired to help others. In a community like Boise that’s full of selfless and passionate people, it’s hard to not be inspired. In the past nine years, Curt has taken his Boise roots much farther, and what simply began as a project, eventually became a career and way of life.
Surprisingly, 25% of the world’s population suffers from chronic malnutrition—a condition which stunts growth, slows learning, and threatens the immune system. Chronic malnutrition essentially means that a person is consuming a sufficient amount of food with an insufficient amount of nutrients. According to The United States Agency for International Development, Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere, topping the board at nearly 50%. For years, many groups have attempted to solve this food crisis by implementing new foods into the diets of third-world countries and attempting to change how a culture eats. Instead, Boise-based 501(c)3 social venture Semilla Nueva is taking a staple that Guatemalans already consume daily—corn—and fortifying it with all the nutrients that ‘normal’ corn lacks, which is helping eliminate chronic malnutrition more and more each day. The team is truly creating a “new seed,” which is what Semilla Nueva means in Spanish.
Curt Bowen, Jake Weisenthal, and Trinidad Recinos are the founders of Semilla Nueva and all live and work full time in Guatemala with the other 20 members of their team. Their goal is to revolutionize the diets of as many people as possible. Primarily, the team’s focus is on children ages two and under, as chronic malnutrition does its worst damage in the first two years of life. The impacts of malnutrition are long-lasting, nevertheless, and make it “more likely [for those affected] to drop out of school, get sick far more often, and earn less”,” as Semilla Nueva’s website states. “To completely end chronic malnutrition in a country, it takes generations,” Curt told me.
Semilla Nueva is thriving because of their stable business model of selling low-priced, high-yielding, nutritious corn to local farmers. They breed the most nutritious corn seed with the most producing seed, a process called “biofortification.” This new, nutrient-dense corn is called QPM- quality protein maize. Furthermore, the farmers who purchase the seeds also become ambassadors, impressed by the high profit of such a low-cost crop. While it may seem difficult to create such widespread change through solely one brand, Semilla Nueva calculated that 100,000 bags of their corn could affect the diets of a whopping 7.5 million people. Since launching their first commercial seed in November 2017, Semilla Nueva has sold to 1,500 farmers who currently use and plant the team’s QPM, which ultimately reaches 100,000 Guatemalans. Next year, they hope to reach 300,000-400,000. They have already gained quite a bit of publicity outside of Guatemala, having been recognized by CNN, Huffington Post, and Forbes, among others, including KTVB, Boise’s local news source.
The future of Semilla Nueva lies hopefully in expanding regionally; the team desires to spread their work into Honduras and El Salvador in the next few years, and potentially Sub-Saharan Africa further down the road. While most of the hands-on work occurs in Guatemala, Bowen states that it truly could not be done without the efforts of the Boise office, an all-volunteer team who work tirelessly to share and promote Semilla Nueva alongside a handful of Idaho’s Rotary Clubs. Boise truly has made an impact on the world, and Semilla Nueva is a prime example of that.
Learn more by visiting www.semillanueva.org,or follow @SemillaNueva on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Vimeo.