By: Carolyn Cowan and Jennifer Johnson
A fall armyworm found on maize plants in Khamman district, Telangana state, India. Photo: ICAR-Indian Institute of Maize Research
The fall armyworm (FAW), Spodoptera frugiperda, a devastating insect-pest, has been identified for the first time on the Indian subcontinent. Native to the Americas, the pest is known to eat over 80 plant species, with a particular preference for maize, a main staple crop around the world. The fall armyworm was first officially reported in Nigeria in West Africa in 2016, and rapidly spread across 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Sightings of damage to maize crops in India due to fall armyworm mark the first report of the pest in Asia.
Dr. Abdur Rahman Beshir, CIMMYT maize improvement and seed systems specialist, speaking at the introduction of new, high-yield maize varieties at NARC in Islamabad. Photo: Sana Jamal
Several new high-yield maize varieties have been introduced for commercial use in Pakistan this past week, lauded as the “first ever type of maize innovation in Pakistan,” according to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Maize Improvement and Seed System Specialist, Dr. Abdur Rahman Beshir. The varieties, which were developed by CIMMYT, can yield as much as 10 tons per hectare.
Frequent germplasm exchange between the Americas, Africa and Asia made maize the crop it is today. At one point in 2005, Brazilian elite breeding material was crossed with local Thai varieties, creating a breeding line that spread throughout Asia and even returned to predominate in southern USA.
For Walter Trevisan, Germplasm Enhancement of Maize (GEM) Steering Committee Chair, the transnational history of maize breeding offers several important lessons for maize breeders today.
M.L. Jat, senior cropping system agronomist in the Global Conservation Agriculture Program at CIMMYT, in collaboration with Hirak Banerjee, Rupak Goswami, Somsubhra Chakraborty, Sudarshan Duttac, Kaushik Majumdar, T. Satyanarayana and Shamie Zingore, recently published a study examining the socio-economic determinants of yield gap in maize. The study, “Understanding biophysical and socio-economic determinants of maize (Zea mays L.) yield variability in eastern India” was published in the NJAS -Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences and was made possible by a grant from the Maize CRP. The term “yield gap” refers to “the difference between actual yields and potential yield,” potential yield being “the maximum yield that can be achieved in a given agro-ecological zone.”
The purpose of the study was to investigate the key factors limiting maize productivity in the Malda and Bankura districts of the Indian state of West Bengal, in order to develop effective crop and nutrient management strategies to reduce the yield gap in the region.
The study compared the maize yield and socio-economic situation of farmers in the region and found that factors such as the caste or ethnic origin of farmers, availability of family labor, land ownership, use of legumes in cropping sequence, irrigation constraints, type of seed used, optimal plant population, labor and capital investment and use of organic manure had strong correlations to the maize yields farmers were able to achieve. The authors of the study hope that this information can facilitate the development and introduction of appropriate typology-specific crop management practices, in accordance with the needs of farmers and the socio-economic factors affecting their productivity, which could help to increase maize yields and reduce the yield gap for the region’s farmers.