Ismael Mayanja never intended to work in agriculture, but knew he wanted to make a positive impact on his country. The 23-year-old engineer was recently awarded the 2019 MAIZE Youth Innovators Award – Africa in the category of “researcher” for his work developing a bicycle-powered maize cleaning machine that reduces labor time and improves the health of school children in his native country, Uganda.
These awards, an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), recognize the contributions of young women and men below 35 years of age who are implementing innovations in African maize-based farming systems. This is the second year of the awards, and the first time to be held in Africa. The award ceremony took place in Lusaka, Zambia during the annual Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project meeting May 7-9, 2019.
Unprecedented droughts have hit Uganda’s farmers hard in recent years, affecting household income and food security by drastically cutting maize yields, a staple crop in the country. In 2016, at least 1.3 million people in Uganda faced hunger and urgently needed food aid after a dry spell decimated harvests, leaving some with less than one meal per day. When MLN, a maize disease with the ability to cause extreme or complete crop loss in maize, arrived in Uganda in 2013, farmers needed a variety that could cope.
A farmer shucks cobs of hybrid maize in Malawi. Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT.
The agricultural research sector is taking aim at a longtime foe of African smallholder farmers — old seeds.
More than 100 research partners and funders will meet in Kampala, Uganda from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, 2017 to discuss ways to encourage Africa’s seed sector to replace old maize varieties with new, robust and more resilient varieties and help smallholders realize yield potential amid climate change challenges.
The meeting, to be opened by Hon. Vincet Bamulangaki Sempiija, Uganda’s minister of agriculture, marks the first anniversary of the launch of the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project. STMA was launched in Africa to help smallholders mitigate the impact of combined multiple stresses affecting maize farming, including, heat, drought, poor soil fertility, Striga and such diseases as Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN), Gray leaf spot, Turcicum leaf blight among others.
In September 2011, reports came of a devastating new maize disease in the Southern Rift Valley of Kenya. The symptoms were described as mottling of the leaves, small cobs with few grains, and necrosis of young leaves leading to “dead heart” and eventually plant death. It was common for affected fields to show 100 percent infection rates, meaning that some farmers faced losing the entire crop.