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.
A woman farm worker carrying her baby on her back weeds maize for seed production in Tanzania. Photo: CIMMYT / P. Lowe.
Since its introduction to the continent in the 1500’s, maize has become a major staple crop in Africa as well as an important component of rural livelihoods. An estimated 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source. However, climate change and extreme weather events such as this year’s devastating El Niño, as well as emerging diseases and pests, threaten maize production and food security in the region. MAIZE and its partners are dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to the many challenges faced by African farmers and consumers.
Charles Mutimaamba, Chief Research Officer and Maize Breeder at the CBI, pauses for a photo with the Skywalker in a field.
Though its name implies science fiction, Skywalker’s results have been incredibly real. A small, unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with remote sensing devices, Skywalker flies over maize fields collecting images and data. It is able to measure several hundred plots in one take. Spectral reflectance and thermal imagery cameras on its wings allow scientists to conduct non-destructive screening of plant physiological properties such as crop growth and water use, at enough resolution to obtain information at plot level.
The Zimbabwe Maize Breeding Programme was honored on Friday, February 13 2015, as the 2014/2015 Presidential Award winners in agricultural research during a ceremony attended by more than 1,500 people at the Research Council of Zimbabwe’s 10th International Research Symposium held in Harare.
The Zimbabwe Maize Breeding Programme receives the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Award for Outstanding Research. Photo: Courtesy of IBP.