Women and youth help lead efforts to adopt climate-friendly farming and safeguard indigenous maize yields
Farmers walk through a field that has been cleared by slash and burn agriculture in the Yucatan peninsula. Photo: Maria Boa/ CIMMYT
The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico has been hard hit by drought and extreme weather events related to climate change in recent years, exacerbating local poverty and food insecurity. In addition, slash-and-burn agriculture techniques have led to environmental degradation and contribute to climate change. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is working to help indigenous Mayan farming families in the Yucatan peninsula adapt to and mitigate climate change, increasing maize yields and food security while minimizing negative environmental impact. This comes as world leaders mull a crucial decision on agriculture at the UN Climate talks in Bonn, a decision that could support farmers everywhere to take similar actions.
Stress-tolerant maize varieties are helping farmers produce more food despite climate change. Photo: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT.
As the world’s changing climate makes it more difficult to feed a growing population, smallholder farmers need sustainable solutions to improve food security and livelihoods while adapting to the impacts of climate change. Stress tolerant crop varieties offer much-needed answers, as one of the “10 best bet innovations for adaptation in agriculture” according to a new working paper from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
Maize is the most important staple crop in the world.
Is drought-resilient maize an answer to pressure on African farmers through climate change? The Center for Development Research (ZEF) organised a panel of experts to address this topic in Bonn, Germany.
Maize is an important staple food crop in most of sub-Saharan Africa, and it is grown on around 33 million of the total 194 million hectares under cultivation in the region. However, El Niño and global warming have had a dramatic effect on farming in many areas. The 2015-2016 El Niño event was one of the strongest on record. Among the countries affected in Africa was Ethiopia, which saw its worst drought in decades. The country, which is the continent’s fifth-largest maize producer, suffered huge crop losses, and an estimated 1.35 million farmers were left without new seed.
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.