The 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.
By Matthew O’Leary
Listen to a podcast of CIMMYT maize breeder Biswanath Das discussing the importance of adapting maize breeding and seed systems to climate change here.
Investment in accelerating the adaptation of maize breeding and seed systems to climate change is needed a new report finds. Photo: Peter Lowe/ CIMMYT
Breeding and seed systems must be adapted to survive projected climate change if major loss of maize yields is to be avoided, a new report shows.
Tools that forecast the response of crops to different weather and climate conditions, coupled with crop yield modeling have enabled agricultural scientists to predict and formulate plans for potential future climate change.
CIMMYT maize seed system specialist James Gethi inspects a maize field in Nzega, Tanzania. Photo: Kelah Kaimenyi/CIMMYT.
Maize is not only a staple in diets across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – it is a cash crop that supports millions of farmer households. Maize is grown on over 33 million hectares in just 13 of 48 SSA countries – accounting for 72% of all maize produced in the region. This crop, without a doubt, is king.
However, rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns threaten maize production across the continent. Total crop loss occurs if there’s little or no rainfall at the flowering stage, when maize is most vulnerable. And when temperatures increase, soil moisture is quickly depleted and farmers have to resort to prolonged irrigation, a costly undertaking for smallholders.
Drought-tolerant (DT) maize varieties produce better yields both in good and bad seasons compared to most commercial varieties available in the region. Since 2006, CIMMYT has developed 200 drought-tolerant varieties and hybrids, many of which also possess desirable traits such as resistance to major diseases.
Scientists agree maize originated in Mexico thousands of years ago. CIMMYT/ Peter Lowe
For Mexicans, the “children of corn,” maize is entwined in life, history and tradition. It is not just a crop; it is central to their identity.
Even today, despite political and economic policies that have led Mexico to import one-third of its maize, maize farming continues to be deeply woven into the traditions and culture of rural communities. Furthermore, maize production and pricing are important to both food security and political stability in Mexico.
One of humanity’s greatest agronomic achievements, maize is the most widely produced crop in the world. According to the head of CIMMYT’s maize germplasm bank, senior scientist Denise Costich, there is broad scientific consensus that maize originated in Mexico, which is home to a rich diversity of varieties that has evolved over thousands of years of domestication.