By Busani Bafana
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.
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.
Striga at root, and germinating. Photo: K. Kaimenyi/CIMMYT
Every planting season presents a different kind of challenge for smallholder farmers, and for those in Siaya’s Alego sub-county in Western Kenya, the nightmare of a recurring crop-killing weed is all too real. Known by its local name kayongo, the Striga weed is one of the leading causes of crop loss, a significant dent to farmers’ livelihoods and major hindrance to food security in the area.
2015 marked a year of exciting advances in scientific research and strengthened partnerships for the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE). Sixty-four improved maize varieties, based on CIMMYT/IITA germplasm, were released through MAIZE partners in 2015, including 44 in sub-Saharan Africa, 13 in Latin America, and 7 in Asia. In addition to high and stable yield potential, some of the special traits stacked in these varieties include drought tolerance, heat tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, enhanced protein quality, and resistance to diseases such as tar spot complex, turcicum leaf blight, gray leaf spot, and maize streak virus (MSV), as well as tolerance to the parasitic weed Striga.