Stress tolerant maize ensures food secure future

Old seed varieties, one of the hurdles for smallholder farmers trying to secure yields, is currently the focus for international agricultural research.

Over the past 10 years, two international non-profit research organisations – the International Maize Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – have gone all out to ensure outdated varieties are replaced with more than 230 improved drought tolerant varieties in 13 African countries.

“Africa’s seed sector is the force behind our goal for a food secure continent,” said Tsedeke Abate, leader of CIMMYT’s maize seed systems in Africa.

He said it is important to ensure resilience in the African maize market. The organisation is doing its part to aid seed companies with access to improved varieties, and technical support to produce high quality seed.

Sowing the seed to secure Africa

The improved varieties are cultivated to aid smallholder farmers to mitigate the effects of heat, drought, poor soil fertility, Striga and diseases like Maize Lethal Necrosis, Gray leaf spot, and Turcicum leaf blight.

Half of the maize-grown areas in sub-Saharan Africa are planted with improved maize varieties. The downside, however, is that popular varieties have been on the market for over 20 years.

According to the CIMMYT, a total of 60 000 tons of drought tolerant maize was produced in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015, on an area of 2.4 million hectares, affecting 6 million households.

The aim is to cover a total of 4.5 million ha in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 with a total of 114 000 tons of modern varieties in the 12 targeted countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Benin, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria.

Calling on African leaders

“Policy makers in national governments, funding organizations and regional bodies have been quite supportive of this important initiative,” said B.M. Prasanna, director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Progamme.

He called on governments to strengthen the programme by enhancing agricultural research and development and to create environments to improve the maize value chain.

He said awareness, accessibility and affordability should encourage farmers to adopt improved varieties.

More than 100 research partners and funders are currently meeting in Kampala, Uganda, to discuss ways to enhance the programme.

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