In September 2011, reports came of a devastating new maize disease in the Southern Rift Valley of Kenya. The symptoms were described as mottling of the leaves, small cobs with few grains, and necrosis of young leaves leading to “dead heart” and eventually plant death. It was common for affected fields to show 100 percent infection rates, meaning that some farmers faced losing the entire crop.
By October 2012, a study team sent by CIMMYT and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) confirmed the disease to be maize lethal necrosis (MLN).
Grace Malaitcha, from Zidyana, Malawi is considered a “farmer leader” because of her use of conservation agriculture. Photo credit: Patrick Wall/CIMMYT.
Provoked by a dearth of discussion in peer-reviewed literature on the interactions between gender and conservation agriculture (CA), several CIMMYT staff and gender consultant Cathy Rozel Farnworth took on the challenge of reviewing the issues in eastern and southern Africa.
Charles Mutimaamba, Chief Research Officer and Maize Breeder at the CBI, pauses for a photo with the Skywalker in a field.
Though its name implies science fiction, Skywalker’s results have been incredibly real. A small, unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with remote sensing devices, Skywalker flies over maize fields collecting images and data. It is able to measure several hundred plots in one take. Spectral reflectance and thermal imagery cameras on its wings allow scientists to conduct non-destructive screening of plant physiological properties such as crop growth and water use, at enough resolution to obtain information at plot level.
By Frédéric Baudron, Christian Thierfelder and Isaiah Nyagumbo, CIMMYT agronomists
The controversial debate among researchers about the suitability of conservation agriculture for smallholder farmers in Africa continues while rural inhabitants in Africa face food insecurity and degrading resources. What is the role of CIMMYT’s research on CA in Africa?