By Jennifer Johnson
Admire Shayanowako is no stranger to agriculture or the
problems that smallholder farmers in Africa face. The 31-year old maize
researcher grew up on a small farm in Zimbabwe where his family was constantly
plagued by parasitic weeds. Now based at the University of Kwazulu Natal in
South Africa, he is working on biocontrol agents and maize genetic resistance
against Striga, also known as “witch weed”. He was recently recognized for his
innovative research as one of the winners of the 2019 Maize Youth Innovators
Awards – Africa, in the category of “researcher” at an awards ceremony in
Lusaka, Zambia on May 9.
Nontoko Mgudlwa, a smallholder farmer who planted TELA maize for the first time since its release in South Africa. Photo: B.Wawa/CIMMYT
Smallholder farmers in South Africa can now access and grow new maize varieties with transgenic resistance to stem borers, the most damaging insect pest of maize.
Partners in Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) – a public-private crop breeding initiative that helps farmers manage the risk of drought and stem borers infestation in Africa –developed the genetically modified maize seed branded as “TELA” that has been released and licensed to seed companies in South Africa at royalty-free to sell to farmers at an affordable cost.
TELA – derived from a Latin word Tutela meaning “protection” – contains a gene from Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) that helps the maize to resist damage from major stem borers to give farmers better yield. Five seed companies – Capstone, Jermat, Monsanto, SeedCo and Klein Karoo – are marketing the seed to smallholders.
Sub-Saharan African farmers typically apply less than 20 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare of cropland — far less than their peers in any other region of the world. In 2014, partners in the Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) project developed 41 Africa-adapted maize varieties that respond better to low amounts of nitrogen fertilizer and are up for release in nine African countries through 24 seed companies.