CIMMYT maize breeder Thokozile Ndhlela (left, and farmer Otilia Chirova of Mutoko district in Mashonaland East province, identifying the fall armyworm in Chirova’s field in February. Chirova eventually lost almost half of her entire maize crop. Photo: J. Siamachira/CIMMYT.
Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe’s rural areas have grown maize for years both as a staple and as a resource to boost their economy.
However, Zimbabwean farmers rely predominately on rain-fed maize farming, making each planting season a gamble with nature as poor rainfall, pests and diseases constantly threaten this staple crop and farmer livelihoods.
As most smallholders tried to recover from the El Niño-induced drought in southern Africa, affecting 40 million people during the 2015-2016 farming season, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, nothing could have prepared them for the sudden invasion of the fall armyworm in September 2016 that caused irreversible damage on their maize crop.
Artificial inoculation of maize germplasm at the Naivasha MLN screening site, Kenya. Photo: B.Wawa/CIMMYT
The new maize lethal necrosis (MLN) online portal provides up-to-date information and surveillance tools to help researchers control and stop the spread of the deadly disease.
MLN was first reported in Kenya in 2011 and has since then been reported in several countries in eastern Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The disease kills plants before they can grow, and the pathogens are transmitted by insects or contaminated seed. Serious damage to the region’s maize production from MLN has impacted household food security.
Flashback: In early 2015, Kenya’s National Irrigation Board (NIB) purchased Aflasafe to help deal with aflatoxin contamination in maize, a predicament afflicting some of its irrigation schemes. For example, in most years, the UN’s World Food Programme was unable to purchase maize from the towns of Hola and Bura in Kenya owing to excessive aflatoxin. Fastforward to 2017: What were the results of this NIB purchase then, and today, two years on? Read on!
It’s blowing in the wind. Follow Sarah Chughu’s ‘pointing’ finger. See the tiny specks in the clouds on the left? That’s Aflasafe KE01 which Sarah was broadcasting at Galana-Kulalu, Eastern Kenya, in July 2016. An all-natural product, Aflasafe consistently reduces aflatoxin by between 80 and 99% at harvest and in storage. (Photo: U Mutuku/IITA)
A new variety in the market must have significant value to the farmer, such as higher tolerance to stresses, or added nutritional value. Photo: K. Kaimenyi/CIMMYT
For over 50 years, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), lead center of the CGIAR Research program on Maize (MAIZE), has led the research and development of quality, improved maize seed, designed to help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change while improving livelihoods.
Every new variety released is driven by farmer needs and preferences, with desirable traits such as pest and disease resistance, drought and heat tolerance as well as water and nutrient use efficiency. With improved maize seed, farmers not only benefit from increased stress tolerance, they also enjoy higher yields, increased nutritional value and improved income from grain sales.