New maize variety brings hope to Kenya’s drylands

Wandera Ojanji,

Last harvest, many farmers in lower Eastern Kenya were left staring in dismay at their failed maize crops. Once again, droughts had left people in the area desperate; they must purchase maize themselves or rely on famine relief food operations.

However, a few farmers were expecting bumper maize harvests―neither via miracles nor witchcraft―thanks to a new maize variety which is both drought tolerant and resistant to stalk borers, two of the biggest production constraints in the region.

The variety, referred to as CKIR04003 (CIMMYT/Kenya Insect Resistant), represents joint breeding efforts between the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and CIMMYT, under the Developing Maize Resistant to Stem Borer and Storage Insect Pests for Eastern and Southern Africa – IRMA III Conventional Project (a predecessor to the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa Project). Released in 2006, CKIR04003 has the added advantage of being an open-pollinated, early maturing, and high yielding variety―31 to 45 bags/ha, according to Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT’s Maize Breeder.

One of the farmers benefiting from the new variety was Paul Ndambuki. He chose CKIR04003 because, as he said, he needed a variety that could withstand droughts as well as being resistant to stem borers. “From the information provided by KARI, I felt CKIR04003 was the variety I wanted. I did not need any further prodding before trying it out.”

It was a decision that paid off, despite less than perfect preparation. “I got the seeds towards the end of March. Because I was in a rush to plant before the onset of rains, I didn’t plant with fertilizer. I added compound fertilizer only after germination. I had hoped to top-dress with CAN fertilizer. But this did not happen as it rained for only two weeks in the entire growing season. I was a worried man,” states Ndambuki. “But my worries gradually turned into amazement. In complete contrast to my neighbors’ farms, under local varieties or other hybrids, my maize was so green and robust. It looked like a crop under irrigation.”

After six weeks, the maize remained free from stem borers. These borers normally cause huge losses in the region, and also make the attacked maize susceptible to fungal infestation and aflatoxin. Ndambuki got 35 bags of maize from his 0.8 ha of CKIR04003, compared with the 12 bags he had obtained from 1 ha the previous season.

Impressed by Ndambuki’s enthusiasm, KARI has named the variety Pamuka1, in honor of Paul, his wife Jane Mumbua, and the Kamba community.

Two extra-early maturing white maize hybrids released in Nigeria

B. Badu-Apraku,, S.A. Olakojo, G. Olaoye, M. Oyekunle, M.A.B. Fakorede, B.A. Ogunbodede, and S.E. Aladele

Two extra-early maturing hybrids with combined resistance/tolerance to Striga, drought, and low soil nitrogen have been released in Nigeria by the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR &T) in Nigeria. The extra-early hybrids originally known as IITA Hybrid EEWH-21 and IITA Hybrid EEWH-26 and now designated as Ife Maizehyb-5 and Ife Maizehyb-6 were developed by IITA, and tested extensively in Nigeria in partnership with IAR & T, through the funding support of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Project. The DTMA Project is executed by CIMMYT and IITA with funds provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Early (90-95 days to maturity) and extra-early (80-85 days to maturity) maize varieties can contribute to food security especially in marginal rainfall areas of West and Central Africa. These varieties are ready for harvest early in the season when other traditional crops such as sorghum and millet are not ready, and are thus used to fill the hunger gap in July in the savanna zone when all food reserves are depleted after the long dry period. Furthermore, there is a high demand for the early and extra-early cultivars in the forest zone for peri-urban maize consumers.

These maize varieties provide farmers the opportunity to market the early crop as green maize at a premium price in addition to being compatible with cassava for intercropping (IITA 1992). However, despite the potential of early and extra-early maize to contribute to food security and increased incomes of farmers in the subregion, maize production and productivity in the savannas are severely constrained by drought, Striga parasitism and low soil-nitrogen.

During the last two decades, IITA in collaboration with national scientists in West and Central Africa, has developed a wide range of high-yielding drought-tolerant and/or escaping extra-early Striga resistant populations (white and yellow endosperm), inbred lines, and cultivars to combat these threats.

Extra-early inbreds and hybrids that are not only tolerant to low N and drought escaping (characteristics of extra earliness) but also possess genes for tolerance to drought during flowering and grain-filling periods are now available in Nigeria (Badu-Apraku and Oyekunle 2012).

Saving maize from parasitic Striga in Kenya and Nigeria

Thousands of farmers in Kenya and Nigeria are successfully battling the invasion in their farms by Striga, a deadly parasitic weed. They are now enjoying higher yields in maize, the number one staple in Kenya and an important cash crop in Nigeria.

The key to managing this weed is to combine sustainable multiple-pronged technology options being advocated by the Integrated Striga Management in Africa (ISMA) project to sustainably eliminate the weed from their fields, says Dr Mel Oluoch, ISMA project manager.

Striga attacks and greatly reduces the production of staple foods and commercial crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice, sugarcane, and cowpea. The weed attaches itself to the roots of plants and removes water and nutrients and can cause losses of up to 100% in farmers’ crops. Furthermore, a single flower of the weed can produce up to 50,000 seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.

The weed is the number one maize production constraint in Western Kenya, and Nigeria, infesting most farmers’ fields.

The management technologies range from simple cultural practices such as intercropping maize with legumes such as groundnuts; crop rotation of maize with soybean which stimulates Striga to germinate but which later dies in the absence of the maize host to latch onto; deploying a “push-pull’ technology that involves intercropping cereals with specific Striga-suppressing desmodium forage legume; using Striga resistant maize varieties; and using CIMMYT-developed maize varieties resistant to Imazapyr—a BASF herbicide (StrigAway®), which kills the Striga seed as it germinates and before it can cause any damage; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies which uses a naturally occurring host-specific fungal pathogen that kills the Striga at all stages without affecting other crops.

Imazapyr-resistant maize varieties with natural resistance to Striga hermonthica have been developed. The best hybrids produce 19% to 333% more grain yields under Striga infestation, sustain 17% to 57% less Striga damage, and support 63% to 98% less emerged Striga plants compared with the commercial hybrid check. In addition, new Striga resistant hybrids and open-pollinated synthetic varieties (OPVs) that combine Striga resistance with good standability have been developed. The hybrids and OPVs produce 47% to 126% more grain yields under Striga infestation, sustain 17% to 60% less Striga damage, and support 45% to 90% less emerged Striga plants compared with the common farmers’ varieties and commercial hybrids.

ISMA ( is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is being implemented with the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, CIMMYT, African Agricultural Technology Foundation, BASF Crop Protection, and other national agricultural research and extension services and private sector players in Kenya and Nigeria.

Promoting the use of drought tolerant maize in Nigeria

Tahirou Abdoulaye, t. and Onu Anyebe

The DTMA project of IITA-CIMMYT aims at developing and deploying drought tolerant varieties in 13 sub-Saharan African countries. In West Africa, the project, led by IITA and its national partners, is being implemented in Nigeria, Bénin, Mali, and Ghana. In Nigeria, the project covers all the maize-producing agroecologies.

As part of the promotion efforts, farmers’ groups were formed in Kano and Katsina States in northern Nigeria to demonstrate the performance of these improved varieties but also to organize the farmers so that they could have access to the critical inputs needed in maize production.

IITA introduced the drought tolerant variety EVDT 99 to the community of Ruwan Kanya in Rano Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano State, in 2009. This was done as part of the efforts of the DTMA project to inform farmers about drought tolerant maize, both established and newly developed varieties.

A maize production innovation platform was organized around EVDT 99 in the village of Ruwan Kanya. Fourteen farmers initially participated in the production of seeds. For the first year, six farmers each planted 10 kg of the improved variety and eight farmers each planted 5 kg. Other farmers saw the maize fields during the growing season and requested seeds from the participating farmers; eventually the number of participants increased to 36 in 2010. They formed an association to enable them to obtain fertilizer from the State Government.

In the following season, more farmers planted the variety. Six were able to increase their farmland; others bought inputs that increased their production. For example, Alhaji Bako Monitor bought a pair of bullocks for his farm work and for the transportation of goods to the market.

Almost four years later, the DT variety EVDT 99 is now being called Ar Ashiru (named after the president of the farmers’ group). It is grown in the 10 communities in Rano LGA, one community in Sumaila LGA, one community in Tudun Wada LGA, all in Kano State and in Soba/Risipa in Kaduna State. Other communities in Kano State that got EVDT 99 from Ruwan Kanya LGA include Gidan Zangi, Garabi, Doka, Zazaye, Takalafia, Gana, Kajorawa, Yelwa ciki, Tadesha, and Kundu.

Some farmers also planted EVDT 99 in the dry season after harvesting tomatoes between February/March. The dry season maize is harvested fresh and consumed after being roasted or boiled.

The farmers’ association in Ruwan Kanya was linked to the Kano State Government in 2010. The members were able to purchase subsidized fertilizer at 1100 naira/bag (~US$7) including transportation to the village. The following year, in 2011, the government changed; the new government did not allocate fertilizer to the farmers’ group. The farmers put their money together and the project helped by linking them with a dealer who provided good quality input. They bought the fertilizer in bulk at 5000 naira (~$31) for NPK and 5200 naira for urea and continued seed production.

The farmers say that they appreciate the productivity and earliness of the variety. EVDT 99 responds well to fertilizer and those growing it have had no problem in getting the fertilizer they need to apply.

During the new phase of DTMA, the project team is focusing on getting these farmers linked to seed companies so they can renew their seed stock and continue to purchase quality certified seeds. The drought tolerant maize varieties and hybrids are now being produced and sold by some seed companies in Nigeria, thanks to the efforts of these farmers.

Farmers need to be made aware of the need to renew their seed stock regularly including seeds for open-pollinated varieties such as EVDT to maintain the purity and productivity level of their cultivars.

Joyce MulilaMitti: Better coordination required from agriculture organizations

Dr Joyce MililaMitti is a plant breeder by training; she obtained her PhD from the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in the USA. She has more than 20 years of experience working initially as a food legume breeder/team leader for the Food Legume Research Team for the Zambia National Agricultural Research System (NARES) and later also as a freelance consultant for several development agencies with a focus on agricultural development and particularly establishing community-based seed systems for smallholder farmers. Before joining FAO in 2007 she worked at senior management level in international NGOs. She is the Crops Officer for FAO at the Regional Office for Africa in Accra, Ghana.

Please describe your job.
My responsibilities are to provide technical support to countries in the region for increased crop production and enhanced food security. The primary objective is to contribute to the capacity development of the national systems to provide adequate technical support towards the sustainable intensification of crop production.

What are your major tasks and thrusts for the African Region (RAF)?
The major tasks cover aspects of crop production and protection and broadly encompass capacity development, technical backstopping support, coordination of regional policy development, and the harmonization of crop-related interventions. These are the key thrusts.

• Strengthening capacities for scaling up the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for improved crop production and diversification. The GAPs include conservation agriculture, integrated pest and production management, integrated weed management, integrated plant nutrient system, and innovative farmer-led extension approaches.
• Improving the capacities of the National Plant Protection Organizations to implement the International Plant Protection Convention and manage transboundary pests and diseases for increased food security and safe trade in crops and crop products.
• Providing technical support for the reduction of risks associated with pesticide use as a way of minimizing damage to the environment and harm to human health while sustaining reasonable crop productivity by reducing losses due to pests.
• Supporting enhanced knowledge and information exchange for the use and management of Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture and improved seed system delivery.

What are the major challenges in agricultural development in Africa?
They include the low levels of productivity that most smallholder farmers realize from their farming practices. The factors causing this situation are degraded soils and the general poor soil fertility, unreliable and erratic rainfall characterized by droughts and floods, the high prevalence of pests and diseases, and so on.

Challenges also include those related to poor cropping practices and in particular to the suboptimal use of inputs, such as the use of seeds of low quality (mostly on-farm saved grain as opposed to purchased certified seeds) and the significantly low rates of fertilizer use.

Other challenges are related to an unfavorable policy environment and a generally low investment in agriculture by the national governments, manifested by inadequate support for research, poor infrastructure, poor input and output markets, and inadequate capacities for extension service delivery at the farm level.

The problem of low investment continues to be a challenge even though the countries agreed to contribute 10% of national budgets to Agriculture under the Maputo Declaration. These challenges need concerted efforts and an improved information exchange to achieve better coordination and synergies from the various interventions implemented by the development agencies that support the agricultural sector by addressing these issues. However, the most important factor for the efforts to yield results is adequate political will from the governments to make things happen and especially to encourage public-private partnerships to adequately exploit the potential opportunities that a well developed agriculture sector can provide towards economic development.

What efforts are required to address biotic and abiotic threats in African agriculture?
What is required is more collaboration and better coordination among the different organizations that are involved in working on addressing the challenges so that there is more effective and efficient delivery of interventions and results to the national systems. For instance, the work of CGIAR through the CGIAR Research Programs should involve national partners more closely to achieve impact. This also requires that CGIAR works very closely with the regional economic communities to improve regional coordination and effective information exchange among the national programs.

How can countries overcome the challenges resulting from weak capacities?
This is a major challenge as adequate capacities are necessary for implementing the various programs that are meant to address the challenges highlighted. The ideal solution is for governments to increase their investment in the agricultural sector to address the capacity gaps. However, given that most countries are not able to provide adequately for the sector, the best strategy is to develop the capacities of farmers’ groups, and producers’ associations to provide support for fellow farmers so that there is enough social capacity at the farm level for the transfer of knowledge and skills. A conducive environment for the active participation of the private sector to contribute to providing more innovative extension support and improving access to markets is also the key to addressing weak capacities.

Who are FAO-RAF’s partners?
The key partners for RAF are the African Union and the relevant technical units and RECs (ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, COMESA, IGAD), the Regional Research Organizations (CORAF, ASARECA, CCARDESA), CGIAR centers, NGOs, and most of the various development agencies actively supporting agriculture. These include the relevant ministries that support agriculture programs in the countries (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health).

How do farmers and producers benefit from your office?
FAO’s support to farmers and producers largely involves normative work that is provided through policymakers and national structures. However, there is also direct involvement with producers and farmers through facilitating the implementation of projects/programs (e.g., convening training events, workshops, facilitating field days etc.).

How could IITA and FAO work together?
Stronger collaboration is required between IITA and FAO. Both organizations can add value to the common areas of each other’s work as they have different comparative advantages. FAO can benefit from the immense knowledge generated by R&D programs of IITA for enriching the technical quality of the support that FAO provides to the countries. IITA can also benefit from the increased visibility of their work provided to the wider and varying levels of actors that FAO has access to; particularly at the policy making level of governments.

What is your advice for IITA?
My advice is that IITA should continue to build on the good efforts already started of building alliances. The approach is effective, enhances linkages and collaboration, contributes to capacity development, and is a sure way of achieving lasting results.

Dave Watson: Steering the MAIZE CGIAR Research Program

Dave Watson grew up on small family farm in northeast England. He has over 30 years of commercial farming experience. He has a BSc in Agricultural Botany from the University of Reading, UK, and an MSc and PhD in food system development from the University of Hull, UK. Throughout the 1990s, he taught courses on Sustainable Agriculture and Environment at the University of Hull. During the past 10 years, Dave has managed research-for-development partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa, first as program leader for innovative partnerships in the Innovation Systems Programme of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and more recently as Director for Project Development and Management at IITA. Major achievements include the adoption of innovation systems and value chain approaches in IITA. Key aims of his professional career include ensuring that agricultural research is demand driven and leads to significant development outcomes and impact.

The CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) is a multi-center, multi-million dollar, multi-partner, and multidisciplinary program. Please describe your job as director of this program.
My responsibilities are to ensure the successful implementation of the program under the guidance of the MAIZE Management Committee and in coordination with partner institutions; contribute actively to developing effective research and development teams from diverse partner institutions; coordinate the development of impact-oriented, realistic workplans among project members and partners, and support their effective implementation, aligned with available resources and priorities; develop communication, M&E, and knowledge management strategies and facilitate their implementation in collaboration with other personnel; and coordinate partners’ assessment of research priorities to support resource allocation decisions and the development of effective research teams. I also ensure timely reporting required by the CGIAR Consortium and FUND Council; coordinate meetings; and execute agreements with major R&D partners and investors.

In which area do you see MAIZE making its biggest contribution?
I see MAIZE making its biggest contribution in three main areas:
Harnessing the comparative strengths of CIMMYT and IITA in the quest to ensure that MAIZE contributes as efficiently and effectively to human food security, nutrition and health, and the sustainable intensification of maize-based systems in target geographies across the developing world. This is the first attempt to create lasting synergies between CIMMYT and IITA across all areas of R4D.

Increasing collaboration between MAIZE and other key CGIAR Research Programs to ensure that investments in international agricultural R4D (IAR4D) are much better aligned and work collaboratively to address the needs of poor producers and consumers. This entails working more effectively in the same production geographies and value chains. Aside from the Challenge Programs (which were not as successful as envisaged), this is the first real attempt to foster synergies and reduce duplication of efforts across CGIAR. The key partnership that MAIZE is trying to forge is with the CGIAR Research Programs on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics). Much discussion is under way to better align systems work under both programs.

Building partnerships between MAIZE and other partners to ensure that IAR4D directly meets the needs of beneficiaries, and to better align program outputs and strategies to achieve intermediate development outcomes (IDOs) through co-development of and facilitation of robust impact pathways.

This program involves more than 350 partners from the public and private sector. What would make the partnerships more effective?
About 85% of MAIZE is constituted by bilateral projects. These projects have their own partners who manage these partnerships to achieve project goals. Most of the 350 partners are involved in one or more of these bilateral projects.

Only 15% of funds are allocated through Windows 1&2 funding. These funds are being used to foster new and more strategic partnerships under MAIZE. Examples of strategic partnerships include work with (a) Royal Tropical Institute and Wageningen University on better harnessing Agricultural Innovation Systems thinking and improving performance of innovation platforms under MAIZE; (b) CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) on aflatoxin mitigation in Asia; (c) University of Barcelona and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences on developing low-cost phenotyping systems for developing country partners; (d) International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) to develop decision support tools for maize cropping systems; and (e) small and medium enterprise seed companies to commercialize maize varieties produced by MAIZE.

To make partnerships more effective, it is important to develop shared goals and approaches to achieve these goals. This should be possible through the elaboration of impact pathways and the co-facilitation of IDOs. The second round of CGIAR Research Program proposals will necessitate the development of robust partnerships around achievement of IDOs.

What are your plans for disseminating and promoting knowledge generated through the program and ensuring the adoption of research results?MAIZE co-funds a senior knowledge management expert and a small team of knowledge management specialists in CIMMYT. I hope to work with the knowledge management specialists in CIMMYT and IITA to develop a knowledge management strategy and implementation plan. This strategy/plan will focus on innovative approaches to co-develop, disseminate, and promote knowledge. Greater adoption of research results will be achieved through the development of more robust impact pathways and associated theories of change and through more strategic partnerships.

What are some of the opportunities that MAIZE faces?
Opportunities include (a) Greater opportunities for creating synergies between CGIAR Research Programs and CGIAR centers; (b) Less duplication and uncoordinated overlap of efforts between CGIAR centers; (c) Greater opportunities for alignment of CGIAR center R4D objectives with those of national partners (public and private) in developing countries and with advanced research institutions; (d) Strengthening the relationship between CIMMYT and IITA; (e) Support for farming-systems focused innovation platforms; (f) Improved coordination of maize breeding efforts (including breeding for heat tolerance and doubled haploid technology); (g) Institutionalization of gender-sensitive approaches to maize R4D and more gender transformative research; (h) Enhanced capacity for rapid responses. For example the recent response to Maize Lethal Necrotic Virus in Eastern Africa facilitated with Windows 1&2 funds; (i) The MAIZE Management Committee (MMC) functions reasonably well; (j) The MAIZE Stakeholder Advisory Committee is established; (k) project administrators of MAIZE and WHEAT (CGIAR Research Program on wheat) are fully operational; (l) Competitive Partner Grant process & standard subgrant agreements (for all MAIZE partners); (m) Close to getting a timely program overview: Reporting 2012 templates & Traffic Light Progress Overview developed, Research Management System in CIMMYT is starting to work.

What are some of the challenges in coordinating and managing MAIZE?
Challenges include (a) lack of strong Strategic Initiative leadership; (b) lack of structured info/data/methods exchange across projects (Research Management System); (c) limited information on real time progress and insufficient time available to keep up with projects on the ground; (d) inadequate understanding of how MAIZE technologies lead to outcomes and impact; (e) communication and interaction downstream, among strategic initiatives, disciplines, and with partners; (f) MAIZE communication efforts are slow to get off the ground; (g) the MAIZE Partner Priority Survey has received only 30 responses to date; (h) how to involve partners earlier (program strategy review, strategic fundraising); (i) MAIZE is the 6th lowest funded program of 15. Investments need to be made to increase Windows 1&2 funding for MAIZE. Program Reporting template for 2012 (and 2013) only agreed with donors in March 2013; (k) communication of MMC members via Skype and e-mail is not always working and efficient.

What makes MAIZE different from the other CGIAR Research Programs dealing with commodities?
In many respects, MAIZE is very similar to the other CGIAR Research Programs that have a strong commodity focus. Indeed, to a large extent, building on these similarities was the purpose of the CGIAR reform. While recently working together in Cali, Columbia, many CGIAR Research Programs recognized resounding similarities between the IDOs that each program had worked on in relative isolation. Indeed, 15 programs were able to agree on 10 common IDOs. There is even greater scope for further collaboration between all CGIAR Research Programs.

Any advice to our scientists and specialists working on maize improvement and development?
Yes, we have some great scientists working on maize-based systems from both CIMMYT and IITA. We can achieve so much more working together than we can ever hope to achieve working independently.