Ancient Maize Varieties Provide Modern Solution to Tar Spot Complex

Felix Corzo Jimenez , a farmer in Chiapas, Mexico, examines one of his maize plants infected with tar spot complex.

Felix Corzo Jimenez , a farmer in Chiapas, Mexico, examines one of his maize plants infected with tar spot complex.

By Jennifer Johnson, Terry Molnar and Martha Willcox

In southern Mexico and Central America a fungal maize disease known as tar spot complex (TSC) is decimating yields, threatening local food security and livelihoods. In El Portillo, Chiapas, Mexico, local farmer Felix Corzo Jimenez surveys his maize field sadly… “It’s been a terrible year. We’ll be lucky if we harvest even 50 percent of our usual yields.” He fingers a dried up maize leaf covered in tiny black dots, and pulls the husk off of an ear to show the shriveled kernels, poorly filled-in. “Tar spot is ruining our crops.”

Drought-tolerant maize a boon to farmers in Zambia hit by El Niño

“With consistently impressive harvests thanks to DT maize varieties, I’m always assured that my family will have enough food, and I can earn a decent income from selling some grain,” said Piri, a smallholder farmer in Petauke District, Zambia. Photo: CIMMYT/Rodney Lunduka.

“With consistently impressive harvests thanks to DT maize varieties, I’m always assured that my family will have enough food, and I can earn a decent income from selling some grain,” said Piri, a smallholder farmer in Petauke District, Zambia. Photo: CIMMYT/Rodney Lunduka.

Drought-related challenges in Africa call for proactive interventions rather than reactive ones. Every so often a drought hits, jolting the development community into action, and leading to the delivery of food aid to millions of people facing starvation — beneficial efforts in the short term, but futile for achieving lasting change.

Emergency seed project brings relief to drought-affected farmers in Ethiopia

July 6, 2016
Rameto Tefo lost his entire harvest to drought last year. Without the maize seed provided through the emergency seed project, he said he would have had to beg his neighbors to provide food for his two wives and eight children. Photo: E.Quilligan/CIMMYT

Rameto Tefo lost his entire harvest to drought last year. Without the maize seed provided through the emergency seed project, he said he would have had to beg his neighbors to provide food for his two wives and eight children. Photo: E.Quilligan/CIMMYT

ADDIS ABABA — As Ethiopia struggles with its worst drought in 50 years, farmers pin their hopes on seed delivered through emergency seed projects.

“The situation last year was so bad that we could only laugh or cry,” said Rameto Tefo, a smallholder farmer from Tsiaroa district in central Ethiopia. “We were highly affected by the drought and we are now reliant on the assistance of the government and organizations such as CIMMYT. Without the seed provided to us from CIMMYT through the emergency seed project, I would have had to beg from my neighbors or just plant grain and hope that it germinated.”

CIMMYT Maize Germplasm Bank: Activities and Accomplishments

maize bankThe CIMMYT maize germplasm bank is the lifeblood of many MAIZE activities, preserving the genetic diversity that is necessary to develop improved maize varieties farmers need to feed a growing population in a changing climate.

The bank contains over 28,000 unique collections of seed of maize and related species from 88 countries. These collections represent the genetic diversity of unique native varieties and wild relatives of maize and are held under long-term storage for the benefit of humanity in accordance with the 2007 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The collections are also studied and used as a source of diversity to breed for crucial traits such as heat and drought tolerance, resistance to crop diseases and pests, grain yield productivity and grain quality. Seed is freely shared on request to researchers, students, and academic and development institutions worldwide.