Study reveals diversity “blueprint” to help maize crops adapt to changing climates

By Julie Mollins

Scientists have unlocked evolutionary secrets of landraces through an unprecedented study of allelic diversity, revealing more about the genetic basis of flowering time and how maize adapts to variable environments, according to new research published in Nature Genetics journal. The discovery opens up opportunities to explore and use landrace diversity in new ways to help breeders adapt crops to climate change and other emerging challenges to crop production.

New cycle of maize lethal necrosis germplasm screening to begin at Kenya site in May 2017

Artificial inoculation of maize germplasm at the MLN screening site in Naivasha, Kenya. Photo: B. Wawa/CIMMYT.

The first screening activity for the 2017A planting cycle from March to May is set to begin in May 2017 at the joint Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO)–International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) maize lethal necrosis (MLN) artificial inoculation screening site at Naivasha, Kenya.

Deadline for interested private and public sector organizations to send their maize germplasm for screening is March 30, 2017 to enable processing imports and clear seed shipment that takes between six to eight weeks. Planting is due to start at the first week of May 2017.

Since its establishment in 2013 as a response to the MLN outbreak, the screening facility has so far screened over 60,000 entries from 16 private and public institutions including seed companies and national research organizations in Africa and beyond. The facility was established with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.

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.