Tracing maize landraces, 50 years later

by Carolyn Cowan

Scientists track down the families in Morelos, Mexico, who donated maize landraces to CIMMYT in 1966-67. Would they still be cultivating them?

Maize is more than a crop in Mexico. While it provides food, feed and raw materials, it is also a bloodline running through the generations, connecting Mexico’s people with their past.

The fascinating diversity of maize in Mexico is rooted in its cultural and biological legacy as the center of origin of maize. Landraces, which are maize varieties that have been cultivated and subjected to selection by farmers for generations, retaining a distinct identity and lacking formal crop improvement, provide the basis of this diversity.

As with any cultural legacy, the cultivation of maize landraces can be lost with the passage of time as farmers adapt to changing markets and generational shifts take place.

Doctoral candidate Denisse McLean-Rodríguez, from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy, and researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have undertaken a new study that traces the conservation and abandonment of maize landraces over the last 50 years in Morelos, Mexico’s second smallest state.

The study is based on a collection of 93 maize landrace samples, collected by Ángel Kato as a research assistant back in 1966-67 and stored in CIMMYT’s Maize Germplasm Bank. Researchers traced the 66 families in Morelos who donated the samples and explored the reasons why they abandoned or conserved their landraces.

Doctoral candidate Denisse McLean-Rodríguez (left) interviews maize farmer Roque Juarez Ramirez at his family home in Morelos to explore his opinions on landrace conservation. (Photo: E. Orchardson/CIMMYT)

Pest management must consider the landscape context according to ATTIC project PhD thesis

by Carolyn Cowan

The control of crop pests has long been linked with chemical products like pesticides and insecticides. However, chemicals are often too expensive for smallholder farmers and require careful, appropriate use to ensure effectiveness. What if we could take advantage of natural ecological processes to suppress unwanted organisms, lessening our reliance on external inputs? This is the topic addressed in “Hide and seek: management and landscape factors affecting maize stemborers, Busseola fusca, infestation levels in Ethiopia,” the recent Ph.D. thesis by Yodit Kebede, completed at Wageningen University, Netherlands with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). The implications of the research hold significance for prominent pest control challenges like fall armyworm in Africa and beyond.

Yodit Kebede signs her PhD diploma at Wageningen University, to her left stand her supervisors (l-r) Pablo Tittonell, Felix Bianchi and Frederic Baudron, March 2019. Photo: Anne de Valenca

2019 MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards – Africa Winners Announced

LUSAKA (Zambia) – The CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) has officially announced the winners of the 2019 MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards – Africa. These awards recognize the contributions of young women and men under 35 who are implementing innovations in African maize-based agri-food systems, including research-for-development, seed systems, agribusiness, and sustainable intensification.

Award recipients will attend the upcoming Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, May 7-9 where they will receive their awards and have the opportunity to present their work. The project meeting and award ceremony will also allow these young innovators to network and exchange experiences with MAIZE researchers and partners. Award recipients may also get the opportunity to collaborate with MAIZE and its partner scientists in Africa on implementing or furthering their innovations.

Winners of the 2019 MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards – Africa receive their awards at the STMA meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. From left to right: Admire Shayanowako, Blessings Likagwa, Ismael Mayanja and Hildegarde Dukunde. Fifth awardee Mila Lokwa Giresse not pictured. (Photo: J.Bossuet/CIMMYT)

Maize productivity must increase four-fold to meet growing demand in Africa; implications for low emissions development?

By Hein ten Berge and Martin van Ittersum (Wageningen University & Research)


Demand for maize, a staple crop in sub-Saharan Africa, is growing. Can the region achieve self-sufficient production without converting natural lands to cropland? Photo: CCAFS

Steep population growth and changing dietary preferences will quadruple maize demand in sub-Saharan Africa. Can production keep up? At what cost to climate change?

Using data from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria in West Africa and from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in East Africa, our research shows that average production of 1.7 t/ha of maize in 2010 must increase to 6.8 t/ha to meet estimated demand in 2050.  

To achieve this, per-hectare maize output must grow by about 3.5% per year, a rate never witnessed at national or supra-national scales anywhere in the world in rainfed agriculture.

Corresponding nutrient inputs must grow by over 7% annually to prevent further soil depletion and degradation.

Are such yield increases possible? 

Our answer is a resounding yes. Using the Global Yield Gap Atlas, we calculated an average rainfed yield ceiling of 9.2 t/ha for maize across the nine countries, with area-weighted country averages ranging from 6 t/ha in Tanzania to over 12 t/ha in Ethiopia.