Eastern Cape farmers get a glimpse of improved maize varieties in the pipeline


By Fredalette Uys | 14 February 2017
seed, varieties
Researchers from the ARC explaining the advantages of Tela maize to local farmers.

Smallholder farmers in the Eastern Cape were introduced to advanced seed varieties of the WEMA-Tela(Bt) project at a farmers’ day near Willowvale, organised by the Agricultural Research Council in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform.

Theses varieties from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, is a future investment for food security to the African continent, and will enhance resilience against deteriorating environmental factors.

The day raised awareness among subsistence farmers to plan for the next season – the Tela varieties will only be available next year. The area was also chosen for the event since stalk borer is a serious problem to maize crops in the district.

The WEMA project is a public-private partnership between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Monsanto, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and National Research Systems of Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa (ARC), Tanzania and Uganda.

SEED WORRIER

Kingstone Mashingaidze, Research Institute Manager at the Agricultural Research Council- Grain Crops Institute, says advanced WEMA-Tela seed varieties can be compared to a warrior with a shield – it protects maize against drought. It can also be seen as protective gear against the onslaught of stalk borers.

By planting the seed variety, subsistence farmers spend less time weeding, spend less money on pesticides and have better yields during dry spells.

The seed will also be cheaper – Monsanto donated this advanced seed to the WEMA Project. The products from the WEMA project will be made available to smallholder farmers royalty-free.

According to Sylvester Oikeh from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and coordinator of the WEMA project, the new varieties give subsistence farmers the right tools to grow from smallholders, to the medium and emerging sector.

Farmers also experienced advantages first hand, when they were taken to trial fields where various advanced varieties were planted next to common maize seed, to illustrate the difference in growth and physical appearance.

NO SILVER BULLET

Although the new maize varieties promise a better future for subsistence farmers, some obstacles remain.

For Anne Phakathi, who farms maize for the Gwebendlala project at Fort Malan, finding a market for her maize is still a problem. She told africanfarming.com there is no cooperation or offset point for her product.

“We plant our maize but no one buys it. How are we supposed to get an income from farming maize?”

Mbulelo Maji, also a local farmer, says there are not enough training opportunities for farmers on how to plant and treat advanced maize varieties. He says seed varieties previously distributed to them from other organisations were worthless, since they had no guide on how to plant them. The farmers’ day however did include instructions on how to plant the new varieties.