New selection method allows for rapid development of improved maize varieties

Farmers Nuri Bekele, Tefera Tamirat & Melaka Bekele harvest drought tolerant maize in Ethiopia. Photo: P. Lowe/CIMMYT

Marker-assisted recurrent selection (MARS) is helping maize breeders develop higher yielding and drought-tolerant improved varieties faster than ever before, according to a recent study from scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center(CIMMYT).

“With conventional breeding, it often takes up to 7-8 years for varieties to reach farmers,” said Yoseph Beyene, a CIMMYT maize breeder working with the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) and one of the authors of the study. “With MARS, those varieties take only 5 years to reach farmers, and display greater genetic gain, even under drought conditions”

New maize hybrid shows resistance to stem borers in South Africa

Nontoko Mgudlwa, a smallholder farmer who planted TELA maize for the first time since its release in South Africa. Photo: B.Wawa/CIMMYT

Smallholder farmers in South Africa can now access and grow new maize varieties with transgenic resistance to stem borers, the most damaging insect pest of maize.

Partners in Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) – a public-private crop breeding initiative that helps farmers manage the risk of drought and stem borers infestation in Africa –developed the genetically modified maize seed branded as “TELA” that has been released and  licensed to seed companies in South Africa at royalty-free to sell to farmers at an affordable cost.

TELA derived from a Latin word Tutela meaning “protection”contains a gene from Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) that helps the maize to resist damage from major stem borers to give farmers better yield. Five seed companies – Capstone, Jermat, Monsanto, SeedCo and Klein Karoo – are marketing the seed to smallholders.