Scientists harness efforts to increase use of stress tolerant maize by smallholder farmers

A farmer shucks cobs of hybrid maize in Malawi. Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT.

The agricultural research sector is taking aim at a longtime foe of African smallholder farmers — old seeds.

More than 100 research partners and funders will meet in Kampala, Uganda from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, 2017 to discuss ways to encourage Africa’s seed sector to replace old maize varieties with new, robust and more resilient varieties and help smallholders realize yield potential amid climate change challenges.

The meeting, to be opened by Hon. Vincet Bamulangaki Sempiija, Uganda’s minister of agriculture, marks the first anniversary of the launch of the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project. STMA was launched in Africa to help smallholders mitigate the impact of combined multiple stresses affecting maize farming, including, heat, drought, poor soil fertility, Striga and such diseases as Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN), Gray leaf spot, Turcicum leaf blight among others.

New reports shed light on maize seed sector functioning and adoption

A farmer who took part in the KIT study in Bihar, India. Photo: Genevieve Audet-Bélanger/KIT.

Maize is a staple food in many developing countries, and ensuring that smallholder farmers have access to and are familiar with the improved maize varieties available to them is critical in improving food security worldwide for farming families and consumers. In order to understand whether smallholder farmers have access to improved maize varieties and how the organization of the seed sector supports this, the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) recently conducted four studies on seed sector functioning and the adoption of improved maize varieties.  

As temperatures soar, Zimbabwe’s farmers test maize that can cope

By Busani Bafana

Appolonia Marutsvaka shows off her drought-tolerant, heat stress maize cobs. Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT.

Apolonia Marutsvaka shows off her drought-tolerant, heat stress maize cobs. Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT.

Apolonia Marutsvaka looks triumphant as she shows off one of her three bags of gleaming white maize. She harvested the grain in the midst of a drought and sapping heat that charred many other types of crop.

The secret of her successful harvest is simple: A type of maize seed that has been bred to tolerate high temperatures.

“It has never been this hot, but (this) variety of maize performs well in the heat,” said the 62-year-old Marutsvaka. “I am preparing my maize field to plant it again.”

Marutsvaka is hopeful the new variety will continue to ensure her a harvest even as temperatures soar above 30 degrees Celsius here in Masvingo Province and across Zimbabwe.

Spotlight: MAIZE in Africa

A woman farm worker carrying her baby on her back weeds maize for seed production. Credit: CIMMYT / Peter Lowe.

A woman farm worker carrying her baby on her back weeds maize for seed production in Tanzania. Photo: CIMMYT / P. Lowe.

Since its introduction to the continent in the 1500’s, maize has become a major staple crop in Africa as well as an important component of rural livelihoods. An estimated 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source. However, climate change and extreme weather events such as this year’s devastating El Niño, as well as emerging diseases and pests, threaten maize production and food security in the region. MAIZE and its partners are dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to the many challenges faced by African farmers and consumers.