CIMMYT maize breeder, Thokozile Ndhlela (left), inspects a maize trial field with smallholder farmer, Otilia Chirova, in Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe. Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT.
Little did 47-year-old Thokozile Ndhlela know that growing up in a rural area in Zimbabwe would inspire her to become a well-respected agricultural scientist, helping to transform agriculture by developing science-based solutions to some of the complex issues facing African farmers.
Currently a postdoctoral staff member with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, Ndhlela encourages girls to choose options that lead to careers in agriculture. Most farmers worldwide average an age of over 60, so Ndhlela’s work is also helping to encourage young people to get involved in agriculture.
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.
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.