Amazing maize

maize_100Research on maize improvement by IITA and partners, including CIMMYT, shows increased harvests and enhanced livelihoods of farmer-beneficiaries in sub-Saharan Africa. Total net benefit from maize research in West Central Africa from 1981 to 2005 alone using varieties from IITA, CIMMYT, and national programs is estimated at US$6.8 billion.

Issue 10, March 2013

Breakthroughs in maize breeding
Extra early white maize hybrids
Ensuring the safety of African crops
Helping farmers benefit from drought tolerant maize
New maize brings hope
Promoting drought tolerant maize
Saving maize from Striga
Ecofriendly bioherbicide
Developing aflasafeTM
Drought tolerant maize for Mali

Download PDF

Drought tolerant maize is good for farmers and business in Mali

Vincent Defait,

Excellent outcomes in farmers’ tests of drought tolerant maize in Mali—where rainless spells persistently wilt harvests and hopes—have increased the demand for maize seeds and raised the crop’s appeal.

Finishing his meal, 67-year-old Malian farmer Bakary Touré smiles and looks over his homestead’s courtyard where friends are eating a traditional corn paste. Some children watch; some women wash pots; a goat wanders among scrawny hens; and a donkey’s sporadic braying shakes the dusty afternoon. This is Kolokani, a village in the heart of a town of 7800 homes some 120 km north of Mali’s capital, Bamako.

“In September 2011, I had nothing to eat, so I sold my goats and chickens to feed my family,” says Touré, referring to a particularly poor harvest. As the head of a household of 22 people he was ready to abandon his homestead at the time but, as he says, “…Maize saved me.” On the advice of fellow farmers in a local cooperative in May 2012, Touré bought 20 kg of seeds of Brico, a drought tolerant (DT) variety with yellow kernels. Sown and managed using recommended practices, the US$15 purchase of seeds grew into a 1.6 t harvest that brought food security to Touré and his homestead. “I gave three bags to friends who will pay me back later,” he says, standing in front of his storage room. “With the 13 bags I have, I can feed my family for six months.”

Other Kolokani farmers have profited by producing and selling seeds of the DT varieties. Near a small warehouse that stores grain sacks, Oumar Traoré, president of the cooperative “The Good Seed”, remembers the first trials with the varieties. “We usually grew more groundnut and sorghum,” he says, “but when we learned that this maize was profitable and drought tolerant, we wanted to try it.” He and his peers grew it on small areas the first year but soon expanded their plots. “The following 2 years, I produced 6 t of maize, mainly to sell as seeds,” Traoré says, as his friends nod in agreement. “It brought me 1.5 million FCFA ($2900) and I bought cows and a motorcycle. Today, our main problem is the cost and availability of mineral fertilizer on the market. If we cannot buy enough in a timely manner, we have to cut back the maize area,” says Traoré. Despite this, he says that production of DT maize allows him to easily feed his family with 13 members and sell seeds for as much as $1/kg.

A new movement toward maize
That maize can save the day is surprising news in Kolokani where the yearly rainfall, 600 mm or less, has favored more water-sparing crops, such as sorghum, groundnut, and sesame. But Bakary Touré and Oumar Traoré are among thousands of Malian farmers taking up DT maize varieties.
“Mali is one of the countries in West Africa where maize production has expanded into areas where drought stress occurs intermittently,” says Abebe Menkir, IITA’s Maize Breeder, who works with Mali’s Institute of Rural Economy (IER) to develop DT maize varieties and make them available to farmers. “With these varieties, Mali has the opportunity to expand maize production into areas where it was not possible before because of droughts.”

“In Mali, DT maize could revolutionize the lives of farmers,” says N’Tji Coulibaly, an IER agronomist and head of its maize research program who is testing and promoting the new varieties with farmers. Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa of 15.5 million inhabitants. Less than 4% of the land is arable; 8 of every 10 citizens are engaged in agriculture or fishing around the Niger River. Since the mid-1990s, domestic maize production and consumption have grown significantly, based on the crop’s high yield potential and responsiveness to fertilizer, its capacity to alleviate food deficits, as well as its export potential and value for processing and food industries. “The introduction of DT maize seeds can speed the attainment of the Government’s main objective of food sufficiency for Malian farmers.”

Smallholder farmers earn a surplus by growing seeds
The varieties that Coulibaly and Menkir test and promote are products of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project, implemented since 2006 by IITA and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, USAID, and the British Department for International Development.
In the IER office in Bamako, Coulibaly traces the beginnings of the DTMA project in Mali. “We worked with farmers to select the best seeds, those that adapt best to areas where drought is endemic,” he says. “From 2009, two early maturing open-pollinated varieties were released that farmers have dubbed Brico, the name of a town in Mali, and Jorobana, which means “no worries” in the Bambara language. In areas where drought can reduce production by 70%, DT maize is a godsend. Ideally, we should introduce one or two new DT varieties each year.”

IER also helps to teach farmers the skills and know-how to produce certified seeds. Among other things, this requires them to follow a schedule for applying fertilizer, weeding the plots, and maintaining enough separation between maize crops to avoid cross-pollination.

Best and timely practices
Coulibaly describes a series of marketing challenges that need to be addressed. “We must find a way to produce more basic seeds,” he says, referring to the seeds that are multiplied by companies and other commercial seed producers. “In particular, it is often necessary (for someone) to quickly buy the seeds the farmers produce because without money (from those sales), they have nothing to eat; they cannot wait for a potential buyer to knock on their door.” Coulibaly adds that, by the same token, farmers are not able to plan well for their own needs over the medium term. “In general, when a drought is looming, they all want DT seeds at the same time.”

These considerations do not seem to have reached Tanabougou, a village where only the minaret of the tiny mosque stands over the lot of concessions. The capital is only 40 miles away, but to get there one first needs to reach the paved road along a track on which only a few vehicles raise clouds of sand. Run down and often closed businesses in the city of Koulikoro, the capital of the eponymous region, give the impression that there has never been any impact on life in the villages. The Niger River is close, but it seems to belong to another world. In Tanabougou, it is the rain that supplies water to the crops. Animals, mainly goats and donkeys, crop the residues of harvest and the few tufts of grass under the trees.

In his banco concession where bright yellow maize cobs dry on a nga, a wooden roof and branches, another farmer, Benkeba Traoré, 56, says, “With traditional maize varieties, I was producing about 300 kg per year. Last year, with the drought tolerant variety Brico, I produced 2 t of maize and sold 800 kg as seeds to Faso Kaba, a seed business owned by a woman entrepreneur.” In two seasons Benkeba Traoré, who has to feed four adults and 12 children from 3.5 ha, was able to buy a pair of oxen and a plow, “Soon,” he says, “I will replace the branches which surround the concession with corrugated iron.”

The progress was also made possible by the training provided by the agronomists of IER and the technicians of Faso Kaba. For the past 3 years, the farmer has learned to isolate his seed production from other plots, to meet deadlines when spreading fertilizer, to recognize the quality of the soil, and to sow suitable seed varieties.

Rotating crops
When asked if he was not tempted to abandon the other crops, given the high yield of DT maize and the money it generates, farmer Traoré replies, “Last year, I reduced the area of sorghum and groundnut in favor of maize. Sorghum was a failure and maize saved me. But next year, it may be the other way round, so I prefer to continue to grow more cereal crops.”

The farmer now hopes to marry off his two oldest children and buy a motorcycle (about 300,000 FCFA or US$580) to travel to the village. “Today, I have no problems with the soudure,” Traore insists. All farmers in West Africa know about this difficult time between the end of the stock and the next harvest.

Lassana Diakite, 64, is reassured too. He chairs the cooperative from Koula, a neighboring village at the center of a little town with 25,000 inhabitants, several hours walk from the marketplace. Sitting on a wooden bench in the shade of a tree overlooking his concession, the farmer describes in a serious voice the various stages of maize cropping. “From plowing to sowing and harvesting, each step is recorded. I know when I need to weed, when I have to spread fertilizer, when I have to harvest … I even know my yields in advance. ” That is a lot of advantages for this head of a family of 35 people who inhabit parts of the banco concession.

In the first year, the farmer used 1.5 of his 12 ha for production of Jorobana seeds. The result: 1.7 t of maize harvested. Three years later, production has climbed to 4.6 t. “Drought tolerant maize beats conventional maize as the horse beats the donkey,” asserts the farmer.

The next tcheba seeds…
Looking at the nga, where the sun shines on his maize spread like gold nuggets, the farmer adds, “Next year I will sow 3 or 4 ha.” It is impossible for him to devote all his 12 ha to maize. “I do not have the labor,” he continues. “I would have to stagger the fields and interventions and that would compromise performance.”

Diakité acknowledges his new comforts, the oxen he recently acquired, the taxes he pays “with ease,” the education of his children, which is now more affordable, and the fertilizer for the sorghum that he can buy with the money generated by maize.

Back in Bamako, in his office at IER, Coulibaly dreams of the next generation of DT maize varieties. His team has just completed tests on hybrid varieties which are more productive. In 2013, Malian farmers should be able to grow the Tcheba variety meaning ‘big’ in Bambara. The agronomist said, “In Mali, with DT maize, we can speak of a success story…

Breakthroughs in maize breeding

B. Badu-Apraku,, M. Oyekunle, and R.O. Akinwale

Extra-early maize inbreds and hybrids that are resistant to Striga, tolerant of low nitrogen (N) and drought at flowering and grain filling periods, and that combine tolerance for these three stresses are now available in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the painstaking research under the Maize Improvement Program at IITA.

Maize is the most important cereal crop after rice in West and Central Africa. However, during the last two decades, its production and productivity have lagged behind population growth for several reasons. These include low soil fertility, little or no use of improved seeds, herbicides, and fertilizers, inadequate plant density, weed infestation, poor tillage practices, labor shortages, increased levels of biotic and abiotic constraints, and high costs of inputs. In addition, serious infrastructural and institutional constraints have limited the adoption of improved maize technologies. Climate change and its associated effects have also resulted in altered weather patterns leading to erratic and unreliable amounts and distribution of rainfall, resulting in drought. Presently, stresses from Striga infestation, drought, and low N are the most important biotic and abiotic factors that limit maize production in the region.

Four maturity groups are needed to satisfy the maize varietal requirements of the subregion for human consumption, poultry and livestock feed, and industrial use. These groups are the extra-early varieties (80-85 days to maturity), early (90-95 days to maturity), intermediate (100-110 days to maturity), and late (>120 days to maturity). Extra-early varieties play a unique role in filling the hunger gap in July in the Sudan savanna and the northern Guinea savanna zones after the long dry season. The extra-early varieties are also used for late planting when the rains are delayed, for intercropping with cassava, millet, and sorghum, and as “green maize” in the forest agroecology where they allow early access to the market for a premium price. The availability of early and extra-early varieties has significantly contributed to the expansion of maize to new frontiers in the savanna agroecology, replacing sorghum and millet.

A major strategy of IITA’s Maize Improvement Program is to breed cultivars that are Striga resistant and drought- and low-N tolerant to increase and stabilize maize yield production in the subregion. Two approaches have been adopted for drought tolerance. The first is to breed for extra-early maturing cultivars that are drought escaping. These cultivars are adapted to drought-prone environments in West and Central Africa; they mature and complete their life cycles before severe moisture deficit occurs or before the onset of terminal drought. The second strategy is to breed drought-tolerant cultivars with better adaptation to drought-prone environments under induced drought stress. This is achieved by introgressing or introducing into extra-early cultivars the genes for drought tolerance to enable them to withstand mid-season drought when it occurs during the flowering and grain-filling periods.

Breeding for adaptation to drought-prone environments
The goal of the IITA Maize Program is to develop open-pollinated and hybrid maize cultivars adapted to the different forms of climatic variation prevalent in West and Central Africa with emphasis on drought stress. The naturally available mechanisms for drought escape and drought tolerance in the germplasm and the prevailing production environments in West and Central Africa were exploited to develop cultivars with enhanced adaptation to stressful environments. Drought escape occurs when the plant completes critical physiological processes before drought sets in. This trait is quite desirable in cultivars to be released to farmers in areas where terminal drought is most prevalent. Adaptation to drought-prone environments, on the other hand, is under genetic control and indicates the presence of physiological mechanisms that minimize or withstand the adverse effects of drought if and when it occurs. Cultivars with enhanced adaptation to drought-prone environments are useful where drought occurs randomly and at any growth stage of the maize crop. This is quite relevant in West and Central Africa where drought occurrence is erratic, with varying timing and levels of intensity.

Using the two strategies, IITA has, during the last two decades, developed a wide range of high-yielding drought tolerant or drought-escaping extra-early Striga resistant populations (white and yellow endosperm), inbred lines, and cultivars to combat the threat posed by the weed Striga hermonthica and recurrent drought in the savannas of West and Central Africa. The extra-early populations from which the inbred lines and cultivars were derived were formed from crosses between local landraces, exotic, and introduced germplasm identified through extensive multilocation trials in West and Central Africa. They were selected based on high grain yield, earliness, and resistance to the maize streak virus (MSV), and above all on adaptation to the high temperatures and drought stress characteristic of the Sudan savanna in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger.

The extra-early germplasm was expected to have adaptive traits for tolerance to these stresses in the environments where the cultivars had survived. Some of the extra-early inbred lines in the IITA Maize Program not only escaped drought stress but also seemed to possess drought tolerance genes. The inbreds, early, intermediate, and late-maturing, are also able to withstand the mid-season drought that occurs during the flowering and grain filling periods in the savannas of West and Central Africa.

Selection for tolerance for drought under managed drought stress
Selection for extra-earliness in the IITA Maize Program has been carried out in the savannas of the subregion. So far, several cultivars have been bred, some of which have been released to farmers after extensive testing in the different countries in the subregion.

Induced drought stress for selection for drought tolerance in extra-early maize is achieved by withdrawing irrigation water from 21 days after planting until maturity, with the plants relying on water stored in the soil for growth and development. Promising inbred lines selected for drought tolerance were used to develop extra-early maturing open-pollinated and hybrid cultivars with enhanced adaptation to drought-prone environments. The selected lines are also used as sources of tolerance genes for introgression into extra-early breeding populations that are undergoing recurrent selection. Using this strategy, several extra-early drought tolerant and Striga resistant cultivars with enhanced adaptation to drought-prone environments have been bred.

Selection for tolerance for low soil N
In most developing countries, maize production is carried out under conditions of low soil fertility which further compounds the problems of drought stress and Striga infestation on productivity. Estimated yield losses from N-stress alone can be as high as 50% (Wolfe et al. 1988). Therefore, the development and adoption of maize germplasm with tolerance for multiple stresses are crucial for increased productivity. Banziger et al. (1999) showed that improvement for drought tolerance also resulted in specific adaptation and improved performance under low-N conditions, suggesting that tolerance to either stress involves a common adaptive mechanism.

Identification of inbreds and hybrids with genes for tolerance for low soil N and drought
Three experiments were conducted between 2007 and 2010 in Nigeria to identify extra-early inbreds with tolerance for low N and/or drought stress at flowering and grain-filling periods, and to determine the potential of the inbreds for hybrid production and as a source of germplasm for improving breeding populations. In the first two experiments, 90 extra-early maturing maize inbred lines were evaluated in Nigeria at Ikenne (6º 53’N, 3º 42’E, 60 m altitude, 1200 mm annual rainfall) under managed drought stress and in well-watered environments during the dry seasons of 2007/2008 and 2008/2009. Similarly, the lines were evaluated in low-N (30 kg/ha) and high-N (90 kg/ha) studies at Mokwa (9º 18’N, 5º 4’E, 457 m altitude, 1100 mm annual rainfall) during the growing seasons of 2008 and 2009.

Results identified several stable and high-yielding hybrids ideal for drought environments and pinpointed the fact that the extra-early inbreds and hybrids are not only drought-escaping but also possess genes conferring drought and/or low-N tolerance. TZEEI 6, TZEEI 4, TZEEI 36, and TZEEI 38 were identified as ideal inbreds under drought. Under low N, TZEEI 19, TZEEI 96, and TZEEI 45 were top ranking with TZEEI 19 the ideal inbred. TZEEI 19, TZEEI 29, TZEEI 56, TZEEI 38, and TZEEI 79 were tolerant to both stresses. Eighteen of the 36 hybrids produced above-average yields across environments with four hybrids identified as very stable. TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 21 was the closest to the ideal genotype because it combined large mean performance with high yield stability.

Badu-Apraku et al. (2013) evaluated 17 of the 90 extra-early white maize inbreds tolerant to drought and low-N used in the earlier studies under drought, Striga, and in optimal environments at three locations in Nigeria for 2 years. Results indicated that the test environments were unique and that there were adequate genetic differences among the inbred lines to allow good progress from selection for improvements in the traits and to serve as sources of favorable alleles for improving breeding populations for drought tolerance at the flowering and grain-filling periods and Striga resistance and to serve as parents for developing superior hybrids.

Under drought stress, the mean grain yield of the hybrids ranged from 1114 kg/ha for TZEEI 14 × TZEEI 13 to 2734 kg/ha for TZEEEI 29 × TZEEI 21. The top-ranking hybrid, TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 21, outyielded by 13% the best Striga resistant and drought tolerant early maturing open-pollinated variety, TZE-W DT STR C4. Under well-watered conditions, the top-yielding hybrid was TZEEI 3 × TZEEI 13 (5868 kg/ha) while the lowest was TZEEI 14 × TZEEI 13 (2749 kg/ha). Under artificial Striga infestation, TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 14 was the top ranking hybrid, outyielding by 22% the best Striga and drought tolerant early open pollinated check, TZE-W DT STR QPM.

A stability analysis of the top 20 and worst five single-cross hybrids and four early open pollinated check cultivars revealed TZEEI 29 × TZEEI 14 as the second highest yielding and most stable single-cross hybrid across research environments; the highest-yielding single-cross hybrid, TZEEI 6 × TZEEI 14, was the least stable.

Badu-Apraku and Oyekunle (2012) also conducted two more studies for 2 years at five locations in Nigeria. TZEEI 79 × TZEEI 76 turned out to be the highest yielding and most stable hybrid across environments. It was concluded that the available extra-early yellow maize inbred lines are not only drought-escaping but also possess genes for drought tolerance at flowering and grain-filling periods.

The availability of these Striga resistant, low N and drought-tolerant extra-early inbreds and hybrids should go a long way in reducing the instability of maize yields in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the savannas and during the second season in the forest ecologies.

Badu-Apraku, B. and M. Oyekunle. 2012. Genetic analysis of grain yield and other traits of extra-early yellow maize inbreds and hybrid performance under contrasting environments. Field Crops Research 129: 99–110.
Badu-Apraku., B., M.A.B. Fakorede, M. Oyekunle, and R.O. Akinwale. 2011. Selection of extra-early maize inbreds under low N and drought at flowering and grain-filling for hybrid production. Maydica 56: 29-41.
Badu-Apraku, B., M. Oyekunle, R.O. Akinwale, and M. Aderounmu. 2013. Combining ability and genetic diversity of extra-early white maize inbreds under stress and non-stress environments. Crop Science 53: 9–26.
Badu-Apraku, B., M. Oyekunle, R.O. Akinwale, and A.F. Lum. 2011. Combining ability of early-maturing white maize inbreds under stress and nonstress environments. Agronomy Journal 103: 544-557.
Badu-Apraku, B., M.A.B. Fakorede, A. Menkir, A.Y. Kamara, and A. Adam. 2004. Effects of drought screening methodology on genetic variances and covariances in Pool 16 DT maize population. Journal of Agricultural Science 142: 445-452.
Betran, F.J., J.M. Ribaut, D. Beck, and De Leon D. Gonzalez. 2003. Genetic diversity, Specific combining ability, and heterosis in tropical maize under stress and nonstress environments. Crop Science 43: 797-806.
Bänziger, M., G.O. Edmeades, and H.R. Lafitte. 1999. Selection for drought tolerance increases maize yields across a range of nitrogen levels. Crop Science 39:1035-1040.
Wolfe, D.W., D.W. Henderson, T.C. Hsiao, and A. Alvio. 1988. Interactive water and nitrogen effects on maize. 11. Photosynthetic decline and longevity of individual leaves. Agronomy Journal 80: 865−870.
Yan, W. 2001. GGE Biplot- A windows application for graphical analysis of multi-environment trial data and other types of two-way data. Agronomy Journal 93: 1111-1118.
Yan, W. and J. Frégeau-Reid. 2008. Breeding line selection based on multiple traits. Crop Science 48: 417-423.

Helping smallholder farmers reap the most from drought tolerant maize

Florence Sipalla,

At the first sign of the short rain season, farmers know that it is time to till the land and plant. In these harsh times, when rain is scarce, some farmers opt to plant before the rain comes to take advantage of every drop. James Mativo from Makaveti Village in Kyanzasu sublocation in Machakos County is one such farmer. He proudly displays a healthy crop to visitors, with green maize ready for plucking. “I planted just before the season began, to ensure that the crop would sprout when the rain came,” he explains.

For many farmers in the semi-arid Eastern Province in Kenya, preparing fields ahead of the rain is not enough to guarantee a good harvest. Having the right seeds is vital too. Mativo buys certified seeds, suited to the area’s climate, from Dryland Seed Company in Machakos town. “For these dryland varieties, the first rains are very important,” explains Peter Mutua, a Dryland agronomist. “It allows the farmers to take full advantage of this scarce resource from germination. This is particularly important as most farmers in Kenya grow maize under rainfed conditions, even in the semi-arid areas.”

Just as a relay race is a team effort, so is the process of delivering quality seeds to farmers. It takes many people, working together, to ensure that farmers get the best seeds suited to the climatic conditions in their locales. Take the case of drought tolerant maize varieties: the process starts with breeders who develop the germplasm and share it with research partners. They pass the baton to the seed companies who produce large quantities of the seeds which smaller-scale farmers buy from them. The companies cross-pollinate sources of desirable traits to develop maize varieties relevant to the farmers. Often they start with sources from public research organizations such as IITA and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT.

“We try to improve the existing varieties and come up with more that are better than those in the market,” says Peter Setimela, a CIMMYT maize breeder. “With climate change, varieties developed 20 years ago are no longer suitable for the changing environment.” Breeders working under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Initiative led by CIMMYT have developed varieties known as the Kenya Dryland Varieties (KDV) series. KDV 1–6 varieties were released to farmers by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), as well as Freschco and Dryland Seed Companies. The fourth variety of the series is the one now growing on Mativo’s quarter-hectare farm.

It is not only climate change that concerns breeders; they also want to develop varieties that are disease resistant and relevant to the farmers’ other needs – proper milling and cooking quality or flavor, for example. “This is why we have farm trials,” explains Peter Setimela. These trials are done in collaboration with the national research organizations, such as KARI in Kenya. “We look for those traits that farmers prefer. In Kenya, they like white maize for making ugali. In Zimbabwe, some people prefer ZM309 because it is sweet when roasted.”

The seed companies and KARI multiply seeds to furnish supplies adequate to the farmers’ demands, but they also depend on farmers they hire to produce those seeds. “We work with groups of farmers who each have at least 5 acres (2.5 ha),” says Ngila Kimotho, Managing Director of Dryland Seed Company. The seed company clusters the farmers by sublocation and trains them. This, according to Musa Juma, a contract farmer for Dryland in Kibwezi, Eastern Province, is “risk-free planting. This is because you are planting for a known market; as you plant, you don’t have to start worrying about where to sell the produce. An additional perk is that the company provides the seeds.”

Seed companies also use local demonstration farms to show the performance of various maize varieties, winning over farmers to the new varieties that outperform traditional ones. Dryland Seed Company also uses vernacular radio programs to disseminate information on the most productive varieties. “These are interactive shows. We have farmers calling in to find out the best variety to grow, when and where to obtain the seeds,” explains Kimotho. He said that farmers prefer open-pollinated varieties that are early-maturing and drought tolerant and thus better suited to planting in the short rains in the region.

“The basic need in the dry areas is food security,” says Kimotho, adding that farmers sell the surplus grain only when they have a rare bumper harvest. To cater for the diversified market, Dryland markets seeds in packets from 100 g to 1 kg, so there is an affordable option for every farmer. The 100 g package is popular with those who are keen to try out new varieties. “Even students buy it for their parents to try,” says Kimotho. Smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, also choose this option to ensure a subsistence maize crop for their families.

By the same token, farmers are reluctant to place all their trust in a single variety. On Mativo’s farm, he spreads the risk by planting hybrids alongside beans and cowpea. “When the rains are good, the hybrids do well and have high yields, but if the rains are not so good, I still have food from the KDV,” says Mativo. “It would be very sad for a farmer to lack food. When I have food, then my neighbors are also food secure.” Mativo uses ox-drawn plows on his farm, but he also occasionally employs a few manual laborers, some of whom he pays in kind with maize grain, at their request.

In the rare years that farmers get a bumper harvest, they need to sell the surplus. But when there is a plentiful supply, the price of maize is low, and storage becomes an even more vital component of the value chain: the grain requires a pest-free mechanism that also saves the maize from fungal infections, some of which can produce deadly toxins.

Ultimately, every participant in this value chain, the relay race, is focused on one thing–food security. “Working with partners in the national agricultural systems and seed companies, the DTMA program aims to produce 70,000 t of seeds by 2016 with drought tolerant maize varieties in 13 African countries,” said Tsedeke Abate, the Program Leader based in Nairobi. He added that this is enough to plant about 2.8 million ha, an area equivalent to the farms of about 7 million smallholder households.

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).

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.

Maize genetic improvement for enhanced productivity gains

Abebe Menkir (, Baffour Badu-Apraku, and Sam Ajala
Maize Breeders, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria

Maize streak virus disease causes severe stunting and extreme yield reduction in maize. Creating Maize streak virus-resistant varieties is one of the major successes of IITA's maize breeding program. Source: L. Kumar.
Maize streak virus disease causes severe stunting and extreme yield reduction in maize. Creating Maize streak virus-resistant varieties is one of the major successes of IITA's maize breeding program. Source: L. Kumar.
Maize is an important food security and income-generating crop for millions of people in West and Central Africa (WCA). Maize breeding at IITA was initiated around 1970. Using as base materials two composites created from diverse sources in Nigeria under a West African project supported by the Scientific and Technical Research Committee of the Organization for African Unity, breeders at IITA formed several broad-based populations and improved them through recurrent selection. The main research focus at that time was the development of open-pollinated maize varieties (OPVs) with resistance to diseases, and adapted to the humid forest and moist savannas of WCA. The products generated from this research were channelled to research and development partners for further testing, multiplication, and dissemination in various countries in the subregion.

The widespread outbreak of the maize streak virus (MSV) disease in the late 1970s prompted IITA to develop two resistant populations. These were crossed to high-yielding and broad-based germplasm from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, eastern and southern Africa, the temperate zone, central and south America, Thailand, DECALB, and other sources to create populations and varieties resistant to MSV. IITA has supplied MSV-resistant inbred lines, OPVs, hybrids, and populations to partners within and outside WCA through diverse delivery pathways for more than 25 years. Direct use of MSV-resistant maize germplasm that also had resistance to southern leaf rust, southern leaf blight, downy mildew, and leaf spot has been recorded in several countries in Africa.

The significant breakthrough in the development and release of high-yielding extra-early, early, intermediate, and late-maturing varieties with resistance to leaf rust, leaf blight, and leaf spot has caused a phenomenal increase in maize production in WCA, notably in Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. Further expansion in production has also occurred in many countries in this subregion because of the adoption of extra-early maturing improved varieties identified from regional trials coordinated by the Semi-Arid Food Grain Research and Development (SAFGRAD) and the West and Central frica Collaborative Maize Research Network (WECAMAN).

IITA maize breeders in action, maize breeding program. Source: L. Kumar.
IITA maize breeders in action, maize breeding program. Source: L. Kumar.
The development of extra-early maturing varieties enabled production to expand into new areas, especially to the Sudan savannas where the short rainy season hitherto had precluded maize cultivation. The highest growth in maize area, yield, and production in sub-Saharan Africa since 1961 occurred in WCA. These productivity gains, achieved through farmers’ adoption of improved varieties in the 1980s, were driven by the suitability of the cultivars to the major production environments, the availability of inexpensive fertilizer and extension services, as well as favorable government policies that encouraged the use of these technologies.

In a recent impact assessment study conducted in nine countries, the number of varieties annually released in WCA had increased from fewer than one in 1970s to 12 in the late 1990s. The availability of such high-yielding and adapted varieties resulted in a 2% annual increase in land area planted to maize and a 3.5% annual increase in grain yield from 1971 to 2005. Among the varieties released from 1998 to 2005 in the nine countries, 67% were derived from IITA’s maize germplasm. Of the 4 million ha planted to improved maize in these countries, about 43% of the area was planted to varieties derived from IITA’s germplasm. The joint IITA-NARS investment in maize research in the nine countries had lifted an average of 1.6 million people out of poverty annually from 1980 to 2004.

While working with diverse partners to promote the dissemination of maize varieties in the various countries, IITA realized that the major constraint to the adoption of improved varieties in WCA was the absence of an effective seed production and delivery system. To promote the establishment of indigenous private seed companies, IITA embarked on the development of hybrids in 1979 with financial support from the Federal Government of Nigeria and the active participation of Nigerian scientists. This led to the release of the first generation of hybrids in 1983, with a spill-over effect of the establishment of seed companies in Nigeria for marketing hybrid maize seeds. The official announcement of IITA’s maize OPVs and hybrids in the catalogs of indigenous seed companies in Nigeria provide further evidence of the adoption, deployment, and commercialization of IITA-bred varieties and hybrids.

In recent years, IITA has also made significant progress in the development of a large number of maize inbred lines, OPVs and hybrids with resistance to Striga hermonthica, stem borers, and aflatoxin contamination, with tolerance to drought, efficient nitrogen use, and enhanced contents of lysine, tryptophan, and pro-vitamin A. We have the first generation of extra-early, early, intermediate, and late-maturing OPVs and hybrids that combine drought tolerance with resistance to S. hermonthica developed under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Project and supplied to partners for testing through regional trials. The number of drought-tolerant OPVs identified from these trials and released for production since 2007 were 7 in Bénin Republic, 5 in Ghana, 3 in Mali, and 13 in Nigeria.

On the other hand, only one drought-tolerant hybrid selected in Mali and six drought-tolerant hybrids selected in Nigeria were released for production. Furthermore, three varieties with high lysine and tryptophan content, two varieties resistant to S. hermonthica, two varieties that are nitrogen use efficient, a stem borer-resistant variety, two yellow and two white hybrids were released from 2008 to 2011 in Nigeria.

Maize production in Saminaka area in Kaduna State, Nigeria. Photo. by A. Menkir.
Maize production in Saminaka area in Kaduna State, Nigeria. Photo. by A. Menkir.
To accelerate the release and commercialization of hybrids with different maturity classes, high yield potential, combining resistance to Striga and drought tolerance, and other desirable traits in different countries in WCA, IITA has supplied parental lines of promising hybrids to private seed companies for further testing, production, and commercialization. The institute has also trained technical and management staff of seed companies to strengthen their human capacity to produce and market hybrid maize.

In addition, IITA has promoted community-based seed production schemes through its work with WECAMAN and more recently with diverse partners to make improved seeds available to farmers in countries where the private sector is less developed and in areas with limited access to markets.
Despite the impressive strides that have been made so far, continued investment in maize productivity research still remains critical to sustain agricultural growth, food security, improved nutritional quality, and safe harvests. Considering the predominance of the crop in diverse farming systems, heterogeneous landscapes, and the diets of millions of people in WCA, enhanced yield gains have the potential to further expand production in WCA, thus contributing to bridging the gap between food supply and demand in the region, because research has led to and will continue to deliver excellent results.

Increased investment not only in research but also in strengthening the private seed sector will still be needed to promote the rapid turnover of maize hybrids on farmers’ fields that help to achieve higher yield gains to support improved farming in WCA.