Drought-tolerant maize improves yields in 13 countries

Small scale farmer
Copyright: Sven Torfinn/Panos

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  • An earlier project has provided about 200 improved maize varieties for farmers
  • A new one focussing on seven countries aims to engage private seed companies
  • A farmer says the new maize varieties have doubled his yields despite droughts

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[DAR-ES-SALAAM] A new project has begun following the end of a related initiative that has provided more than 200 improved maize varieties for farmers in 13 Sub-Saharan Africa countries.
The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project launched eight years ago under the Global Maize Program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has produced hybrids varieties which withstand drought and pests while boosting yields, says project leader Tsedeke Abate.

“The aim is to ensure seed availability to smallholders at affordable prices, and to sustain seed demand among these farmers.”

Tsedeke Abate, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)


According to Abate, seven of the 13 countries will be involved in the new project Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Scaling Up which will engage private seed companies to produce 12,000 metric tonnes of certified drought-tolerant seeds in the next three years.
“The aim is to ensure seed availability to smallholders at affordable prices, and to sustain seed demand among these farmers,” Abate tells SciDev.Net,
CIMMYT has already started working with seed companies and farmers in the research project countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to multiply hybrid seeds that will benefit an estimated 2.5 million people.
“Africa’s food security faces a host of challenges, but undoubtedly, drought is the most devastating challenge because our farmers rely on rains to grow their food,” said Boddupalli Prasanna, director of the Global Maize Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize in a statement published last month (14 September). “The work undertaken by DTMA has created significant impacts. However, several challenges remain.”
The statement adds that more than two million farmers have grown the new drought-tolerant varieties in DTMA target 13 countries — Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Patrick Mwasapi, the production manager of Meru Agro Seed Company of Arusha in northern Tanzania, says farmers are happy with three hybrid varieties— Meru HD 13, 15 and 405 —  which have been approved by Tanzania Official Seed Certification Agency for commercial distribution.
“These varieties are not only drought-resistant but are also resistant to pests [and diseases] such as the stalk borer and the notorious streak virus disease,” notes Mwasapi.  “We involved farmers at every level of this research, inviting them to demonstration plots to get their views on what exactly the hybrid varieties should contain.”
Anthony Mwega, a farmer in Siha, Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania, says his maize yield has more than doubled from a piece of semi-arid land where the crop did not do well previously using old varieties. “I’m happy with these hybrid varieties because I can now expect to harvest something even if the rains are poor,” Mwega says.

Alois Kullaya, a principal researcher at the Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, tells SciDev.Net: “Erratic weather conditions mean that we have to improve seeds as researchers, hence the production of drought-resistant maize varieties is a priority among local researchers and the government.
Kullaya advises Tanzanian authorities to promote commercial cultivation of hybrid varieties of cereals such as maize to help boost yields.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.