20 Apr Stress resilient maize Varieties for African farmers
Abebe Menkir, Baffour Badu-Apraku, A Tahirou Abdoulaye, Melaku Gedil, and Silvestro Meseka
Maize has emerged in the last three decades as an important food security and income generating crop for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Despite its importance, the average maize grain yields are still low in farmers’ fields in the region due to constant exposure to recurrent drought, parasitic weeds (primarily Striga hermonthica), diseases, insect pests, inappropriate crop management practices, inadequate input use, and institutional factors. The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project was launched in 2006 to reduce vulnerability and improve food security through the development of maize hybrids and open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) with stable yields and enhanced tolerance for drought, resistance to Striga and major diseases prevalent in Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa.
The DTMA Project financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation (HGBF) was run in three phases (2006-2015). It was jointly implemented by the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) and IITA in partnership with the national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES), private seed companies, community based organizations (CBOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and universities in 13 target countries across Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Benin, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria. The first two phases of this project focused primarily on product development, testing, registration, and release through building of the required partnerships with both public and private sector institutions while strengthening their capacity to promote and deploy stress resilient products to farmers. The third phase placed strong emphasis not only on the development of better stress resilient OPVs and hybrids but also facilitated the production of quality seeds, promotion, and delivery of released OPVs and hybrids to African farmers. The Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project followed the DTMA project in 2016 with continued funding from the Gates Foundation and USAID to develop varieties with combined multiple stress tolerance and enhanced productivity that can effectively respond to emerging and future production challenges for outscaling.
The two projects catalyzed the release of 254 new stress resilient maize hybrids and OPVs in target countries across Africa between 2007 and 2017. Of these, IITA in collaboration with its national and private sector partners in Benin Republic, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria released 44 hybrids and 54 varieties of extra-early-, early-, intermediate- and late-maturity combining tolerance for drought with resistance to Striga in West Africa. These OPVs and hybrids have high levels of resistance to diseases in the major agroecologies and produced 20% to 30% more grain yields than the current farmer-grown improved OPVs or commercial hybrid checks across stressful and favorable field conditions in the target countries. Most of the released stress resilient maize varieties have been commercialized in the target countries. SeedCo and Premier Seeds Nigeria Ltd. each accessed two multiple-stress resilient hybrids directly from IITA and registered them with their trade names. Although other small and medium size seed companies in Nigeria and other countries in West Africa were encouraged to access specific hybrids for registration and release under their names, most preferred to access large quantities of seeds of parents of released hybrids from the NARS as well as IITA for certified seed production due to limited resource endowment (land, capital, facilities) and technical capacity (skilled staff) to coordinate the production and maintenance of breeder and foundation seeds of parents of hybrids.
Considering the diversity of production environments prevalent in the various countries in West and Central Africa, IITA has announced allocation of specific hybrids (exclusive licenses) to each seed company or national partner in Nigeria and other countries in West Africa to help the small and medium size national seed companies stay competitive and market attractive maize hybrids that guarantee sales to farmers. IITA believes that providing exclusive licenses for specific hybrids will promote branding and sales of good quality hybrid seeds with diverse genetic backgrounds in specific target production zones to help maintain genetic diversity for minimizing potential yield losses resulting from unexpected climate extremes as well as disease and pest outbreaks.
The largest area occupied by the stress resilient varieties in 2013 was in Nigeria (>23%) followed by Benin (22%). In 2015, a stress tolerant variety (SAMMAZ15) alone was planted to an estimated area exceeding 100,000 ha in Nigeria. The DTMA project also worked with public and private sector partners and produced approximately 52,000 metric tons (MT) of seed of the stress resilient OPVs and hybrids in 2014 alone. The STMA project had a target of producing and disseminating an additional 50,000 MT seeds of multiple stress tolerant OPVs and hybrids in eight target countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2019. In West Africa alone, IITA’s national partners and seed companies have already produced a total of 115,816 MT seed of stress resilient OPVs and hybrids under DTMA and STMA from 2007 to 2017. These covered nearly 5.8 million ha of land and benefited millions of farmers. This was driven by IITA’s involvement in constantly supplying breeder seeds of released varieties and parents of hybrids to the NARS and private seed companies under the two projects. Significant investments have also been made under these projects in training technical and management staff of national partners and seed companies to strengthen their capacity to produce and market good quality seeds of stress resilient OPVs and hybrids to a greater number of farmers in West Africa.
The DTMA and STMA projects have established effective product pipelines integrating cutting-edge phenotyping and molecular tools that contributed to the development of several promising stress resilient varieties and hybrids awaiting release and commercialization. Therefore, increased investment in strengthening the public and private sectors would still be needed to speed up the uptake and commercialization of new multiple stress resilient OPVs and hybrids that can help achieve higher yield gains in farmers’ fields. The new multiple stress tolerant maize OPVs and hybrids available to farmers will have significant impact on productivity at the farm level largely due to their better response to fertilizer and favorable growing environments and resilience under stressful production conditions. Results of an ex-post impact assessment study in Nigeria showed that adoption of drought tolerant maize varieties increased maize productivity by 32% and per capita expenditure by 22%, reduced exposure to farming risk among adopters by 64%, and reduced poverty among adopters by 8%. The production of stress resilient varieties has thus increased food supply and helped to overcome chronic food insecurity among the most vulnerable groups in West Africa. Nonetheless, increased investment in a vibrant and well-functioning seed sector is still needed in the subregion to promote the production and spread of new multiple stress-tolerant OPVs and hybrids to increase farmers’ incomes, reduce food prices for consumers, and improve the profitability and sustainability of the seed industry.