Smallholder farms that produce maize for food, feed and income in diverse, mostly rainfed cropping systems account for 90% of the total area under maize production across the global South. Already extremely vulnerable to production or income failures, these smallholder farmers are on the frontline of the worst effects of the unfolding climate crisis.
MAIZE’s efforts to support and improve the livelihoods of millions of smallholder maize farmers follow a three-pronged approach:
- develop and deploy climate-resilient and pest- and disease-resistant germplasm adapted to the tropical and subtropical regions where vulnerable smallholder maize farmers live;
- promote the sustainable intensification of smallholder maize production through scale-appropriate mechanization and context-sensitive agronomic and resource management practices;
- and stimulate the growth of local seed systems built on small- and medium-sized enterprises catering to the needs and demands of smallholder maize farmers.
Seeds of Success: MAIZE’s Climate Adaptive Maize for Africa Initiatives
In sub-Saharan Africa, 65% of maize growing areas regularly face some level of drought stress. Maize accounts for a third of the population’s caloric intake in the region. Consistent, climate-adaptive, high-yielding and nutritious maize varieties are crucial to smallholder households’ food security and livelihoods.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Maize accounts for
Over the course of its 10-year lifetime (2006-2015), the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project was instrumental in the development and release in eastern and southern Africa of over 200 improved drought and heat-tolerant maize varieties and hybrids. Project partners—the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)—provided national breeding programs and small- and medium-scale seed companies with stress tolerant breeding lines and diverse seed-production support services, among other assistance.
Under DTMA’s successor, the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project, which ran from 2016-2020, MAIZE and partner scientists developed and deployed over 100 more stress-tolerant improved seed varieties.
Today, approximately 8.6 million farmers have benefited from CIMMYT- and IITA-derived climate adaptive maize varieties in sub-Saharan Africa.
A comprehensive study of the adoption and impacts of CGIAR-derived maize varieties in 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa estimated that, in 2015, the aggregate yearly economic benefits of using CGIAR-related varieties released after 1994 were between $0.66-1.05 billion.
In eastern and southern Africa, Ethiopia is a shining example: maize yields have grown at 5.3% annually and maize has been converted from a secondary crop to the country’s most important food crop. Research published in 2015 found that improved maize varieties in Ethiopia had led to a 0.8–1.3% drop in the poverty headcount ratio, as well as to relative reductions in the depth and severity of poverty.
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Scaling Up: Sustainable Intensification and Scale-Appropriate Mechanization
Agronomic practices can also have an important impact on plants’ exposure and ability to tolerate stress. Delayed planting, for example, can result in high temperature stress and lead to crop loss. Yet, farmers increasingly struggle to meet the rising costs of hired labor at peak, time-sensitive moments in the production process. And, as the dramatic labor shortages provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic made clear, vulnerability to shocks to agricultural labor could severely impact farmers’ livelihoods as well the food security of vulnerable consumers.
Research by researchers affiliated with both MAIZE and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) revealed much higher demand for scale-appropriate mechanization than previously found, pointing to a problem of access. Researchers also performed in depth case-studies in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America to identify barriers to adoption and scaling of scale-appropriate mechanization. Based on these findings, MAIZE and other CIMMYT researchers, along with key partners, worked to broker collaboration among actors to support scaling in Mexico, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
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Growing the Local Seed Sector: Value Chain Development of Local Seed Systems
For smallholder farmers to adopt new, improved climate-resilient and stress-tolerant maize varieties at scale, they must be first available, accessible and their benefits need to be widely understood and appreciated. This is where local seed markets come in. Neither MAIZE nor is CGIAR partner institutions—CIMMYT and IITA—directly commercialize the maize varieties they develop.
“Extensive public-private partnerships around drought-tolerant maize varieties supported the nascent seed sector in sub-Saharan Africa and has enabled maize-based seed companies to significantly grow over the last decade. Seed companies in turn are investing in marketing drought-tolerant maize varieties and taking the products to scale.”
By supporting the development of local seed system value chains, MAIZE not only helps promote ancillary, local economic development, it helps ensure the local mechanisms are in place for reaching smallholders widely and quickly with new, improved varieties and promotes the development of market mechanisms for registering smallholders’ preferences and demands.