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.

Best practices for maize production in the West African savannas

Alpha Y. Kamara, a.kamara@cgiar.org

Maize is the top staple and cereal crop in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by IITA
Maize is the top staple and cereal crop in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by IITA

In the past two decades, maize has spread rapidly into the moist savannas of West Africa, replacing traditional cereal crops such as sorghum and millet, particularly in areas with good access to fertilizer inputs and markets.

In the West African moist savannas, higher radiation levels, lower night temperatures, and a reduced incidence of diseases and insect pests have helped to increase maize yield potentials compared with traditional areas for maize cultivation (Kassam et al. 1975). Because of the availability of short-season early maturing varieties, cultivation has gradually spread to the Sudan savanna where the growing period is 90–100 days. Despite the expansion in these production areas, maize yields in farmers’ fields average from 1 to 2 t/ha in contrast to the higher yields of about 5 to 7 t/ha reported on breeding stations in the region (Fakorede et al. 2003).

Maize production in the savannas is faced with several production constraints which limit productivity. Poor soil fertility, drought, and Striga hermonthica parasitism combined can reduce on-farm yield by over 70% even with the use of high-yielding varieties. Land-use intensification in the northern Guinea savanna has resulted in serious land degradation and nutrient depletion (Oikeh et al. 2003). Nitrogen (N) is the nutrient most deficient in the soils and it most often limits maize yield (Carsky and Iwuafor 1995). Unfortunately, due to high cost and poor infrastructure, the availability of N fertilizers is limited.

The problem of poor soil fertility in the Guinea savanna is compounded by recurrent drought at various stages of crop growth. For maize, drought at the flowering and grain-filling stages can cause serious yield losses (Grant et al. 1989). This indicates that farmers’ fields are rarely characterized by only one biotic stress. It would, therefore, be desirable to increase the tolerance of crops to several stresses that occur in the target environment (Bañziger et al. 1999).

Maize plants infested by the parasitic weed<em/> Striga. Source: <i>icipe</i>
Maize plants infested by the parasitic weed Striga. Source: icipe

Surveys in the northern Guinea and Sudan savannas of Nigeria showed that Striga has remained a serious problem, attacking millet, sorghum, maize, and upland rice (Showemimo et al. 2002). In northern Nigeria, over 85% of fields planted to maize and sorghum were found to be infested (Dugje et al. 2006). Grain yield losses ranged from 10 to 100% for these crops (Oikeh et al. 1996). In addition to the damage from parasitic weeds, significant losses occur in maize if other weeds (grassy and broadleaf) are left to compete freely with the crop.

To maintain a good crop and increase grain yield/unit area, agronomic best practices should be undertaken to address these constraints. Appropriate soil fertility management, drought adaptation, and proper weed management can help to close the yield gap for maize in the West African savannas.

Soil fertility management
Maize is a heavy feeder particularly in terms of mineral N. Because soils in the West African savannas are low in plant nutrients, the crop cannot be grown without the application of some form of mineral and/or organic inputs. Farmers often see a dramatic increase in the response of maize to mineral N. If the fertilizer is applied wrongly, however, use efficiency will be reduced and the benefit will be minimal. For optimum economic yield, we recommend 50 kg/ha each of N, P, and K in the form of NPK 15:15:15 at planting if moisture is sufficient or at one week after planting (WAP), and 50 kg N/ha in the form of urea at 3–4 WAP. Increased use of organic and mineral fertilizers, together with diversification in cropping to include legumes grown in rotation is an important tool in restoring or sustaining soil fertility of the intensifying cropping systems of the dry savannas (Sanginga et al. 2003).

These so-called “balanced nutrient management systems” can be further enhanced through the use of improved cultivars that are drought tolerant and can use available nutrients efficiently, such as maize cultivars developed at IITA. This approach that has come to be known as integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) is not characterized by unique field practices, but is a fresh approach to combining available technologies in ways that preserve soil quality while promoting its productivity (Sanginga et al. 2003).

Agronomic practices for drought adaptation
Agronomic practices that enable farmers to adapt to the effect of mid- and end-of-season drought will increase maize productivity in the West African savannas. Several strategies have been developed for the conservation of soil and water to maintain productivity including rainwater harvesting, live barriers, supplementary irrigation, minimum tillage, mulching, bunded basins, and tree planting (Drechsel et al. 2004).

A central approach to increasing crop production in the dry savannas is the planting of well-adapted cultivars at the optimum date. The short growing season and frequent droughts require early and extra-early maturing crop cultivars with drought tolerance. Late- and medium-maturing cultivars, should also be drought tolerant and planted by mid-June after the rains have established. Breeders at IITA and partner institutions have developed cultivars that are early maturing, tolerant of drought, high temperatures, and low contents of soil nutrients and resistant to pests and diseases. These early maturing cultivars can be planted between mid-June and 25 July in the Guinea savannas and between the first week of July and mid-July in the Sudan savanna.

<em/>Striga management technologies. Source: <i>icipe</i>
Striga management technologies. Source: icipe

Weed management
Different approaches are recommended in managing parasitic weeds on the one hand and grassy and broadleaf weeds on the other. An integrated approach is recommended for the control of parasitic weeds. Because Striga attacks the plant underground and causes damage before emergence on the host, the use of postemergence herbicides and hand pulling cannot be recommended. Damage in maize can be reduced by growing varieties that are tolerant of or resistant to Striga or by planting trap crops such as varieties of groundnut (Arachis hypogaea), soybean (Glycine max), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), and sesame (Sesamum indicum) that stimulate the Striga seeds to germinate without providing a viable host (Carsky et al. 2000).

Some studies have shown that applying N fertilizer reduces Striga emergence and numbers, and boosts cereal grain yield (Showemimo et al. 2002; Kamara et al. 2009). Applying N fertilizer may not be feasible as a stand-alone solution to managing Striga in maize because of the high cost but the combined use of N fertilizer and Striga-tolerant/resistant varieties has shown promise in the West African savannas (Showemimo et al. 2002; Kamara et al. 2009). However, control is most effective if a range of practices is combined into a program of integrated Striga control (ISC) that can provide sustainable control over a wide range of biophysical and socioeconomic environments. Ellis-Jones et al. (2004) showed that growing Striga-resistant maize after a soybean trap crop more than doubled economic returns compared with continuous cropping with local (nonresistant) maize. Kamara et al. (2008) showed that these practices reduced Striga infestation and damage on farmers’ fields and increased productivity by more than 200%.

Although manual weeding is an age-old practice in West Africa, it is no longer sustainable because of high labor costs and the aging farming population. Judicious use of herbicides is recommended to control weeds effectively and increase maize productivity. We normally recommend the use of postemergence herbicides to kill weeds before land preparation and planting. Two common types are Glyphosate and Paraquat. Glyphosate (Round-up, Glycel, Force-up) is usually strictly applied before planting, whereas Paraquat (Gramazone) can be mixed with Pendimenthalin (Stomp, Pendilin) and applied immediately after planting. Paraquat kills any live weeds in the field; Pendimenthalin kills preemerging weeds.

Berner, D.K., M.D. Winslow, A.E. Awad, K.F. Cardwell, D.R. Mohan Raj, and S.K. Kim. 1997. Sustainable control of S. hermonthica spp. through a focused integrated pest management programme. Pages 1–11 in: Contributing to food self-sufficiency: maize research and development in West and Central Africa, edited by B. Badu-Apraku, M.O. Akoroda, M. Oudraogo, and F.M. Quin. IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
Banziger, 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(4): 1035–1040.
Carsky, R.J., D.K. Berner, B.D. Oyewole, K. Dashiell, and S. Schulz. 2000. Reduction of Striga hermonthica parasitism on maize using soybean rotation. International Journal of Pest Management 46: 115–120.
Carsky, R.J, and E.N.O. Iwuafor. 1995.  Contribution of soil fertility research and maintenance to improved maize production and productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. In: Proceedings of Regional Maize Workshop, 29 May–2 June 1995, IITA, Cotonou, Benin Republic
Drechsel, P., A. Olaleye, A. Adeoti, L. Thiombiano, B. Barry and K. Vohland. 2004. Adoption driver and constraints of resource conservation technologies in sub-Saharan Africa. Available at http://westafrica.iwmi.org/Data/Sites/17/Documents/PDFs/AdoptionConstraints-Overview.pdf.
Dugje, I.Y., A.Y. Kamara, and L.O. Omoigui. 2006. Infestation of crop fields by Striga species in the savanna zones of northeast Nigeria. Agriculture, Ecosystems and  Environment 116: 251–254.
Ellis-Jones, J., S. Schulz, B. Douthwaite, M.A. Hussaini, B.D. Oyewole, A.S. Olanrewaju, and R. White. 2004. An assessment of integrated Striga hermonthica control and early adoption by farmers in northern Nigeria. Experimental Agriculture 40: 353–368.
Kamara, A.Y., A. Menkir, S.O. Ajala, and I. Kureh I. 2005. Performance of diverse maize genotypes under nitrogen deficiency stress in the northern Guinea savanna of Nigeria. Experimental Agriculture 41(2): 199–212.
Kamara, A.Y., F. Ekeleme, A. Menkir, D. Chikoye, and L.O. Omoigui. 2009. Influence of nitrogen fertilization on the performance of early and late-maturing maize cultivars under natural infestation with Striga hermonthica. Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science 55(2):125–145.
Kamara, A.Y.,  J. Ellis-Jones, P. Amaza, F. Ekeleme, A. Menkir, L. Omoigui, I.Y. Dugje, and N. Kamai. 2008. A participatory approach to increasing productivity of maize through Striga hermonthica control in northeast Nigeria. Experimental Agriculture 44 (3):349–364.
Kassam, A., E. Kueneman, B. Kebe, S. Ouedraogo, and A. Youdeowei. 2009. Enhancing Crop-Livestock Systems in Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Production Intensification: A Farmer Discovery Process going to Scale in Burkina Faso. Integrated Crop Management 7. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Menkir, A., B. Badu-Apraku, S. Ajala, A.Y. Kamara, and A. Ndiaye. 2009. Performance evaluation of early-maturing maize landraces and improved varieties under contrasting moisture supply. Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization 7(3): 205–215.
Oikeh, S.O. 1996. Dynamics of soil nitrogen in cereal-based cropping systems in the Nigerian Savanna. Ph.D. dissertation, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Nigeria.
Oikeh, S.O., R.J. Carsky, J.G. Kling, V.O. Chude, and W.J. Horst. 2003. Differential N uptake by maize cultivars and soil nitrate dynamics under N fertilization in West Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems and  Environment 100: 181–191.
Oikeh, S.O., V.O. Chude, G.J. Kling, and W.J. Horst. 2007. Comparative productivity of nitrogen-use efficient and nitrogen-inefficient maize cultivars and traditional grain sorghum in the moist savanna of West Africa. African Journal of Agricultural Research 2(3): 112–118.
Sanginga, N., K. Dashiell, J. Diels, B. Vanlauwe, O. Lyasse, R.J. Carsky, S. Tarawali, B. Asafo-Adjei, A. Menkir, S. Schulz, B.B. Singh, D. Chikoye, D. Keatinge, and Rodomiro Ortiz. 2003. Sustainable resource management coupled with resilient germplasm to provide new intensive cereal–grain legume–livestock systems in the dry savanna. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 100: 305–314.
Showemimo, F.A., C.A. Kimbeng, and S.O. Alabi. 2002. Genotype response of sorghum cultivars to nitrogen fertilization in the control of Striga hermonthica. Crop Protection 21: 867–870.

Maize genetic improvement for enhanced productivity gains

Abebe Menkir (a.menkir@cgiar.org), 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.

Investing in aflasafeTM

aflasafeTM is a cost-effective, safe, and natural method for preventing the formation of aflatoxin in maize and other susceptible commodities in the field and also in postharvest storage and processing. It is providing hope for African farmers and opening doors for entrepreneurs looking to invest on a winning formula in the agricultural sector.

Maize farmers receive aflasafeâ„¢ from IITA. Photo by IITA.
Maize farmers receive aflasafeâ„¢ from IITA. Photo by IITA.

Scientific studies suggest that investment in aflasafeTM in Africa is viable, not only for profit but also to improve people’s health. For instance, the study of Wu and Khlangwiset (2010) estimated that the cost-effectiveness ratio (CER; gross domestic product multiplied by disability-adjusted life years saved per unit cost) for aflatoxin biocontrol in Nigerian maize ranged from 5.10 to 24.8. According to the guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO 2001), any intervention with a CER >1 is considered to be “very cost-effective”.

About aflatoxins
Produced by the fungi Aspergillus spp., aflatoxins are highly toxic fungal substances that suppress the immune system, and cause growth retardation, liver cancer, and even death in humans and domestic animals.

Aflatoxins also affect the rate of recovery from protein malnutrition and Kwashiorkor, and exert severe nutritional interference, including in protein synthesis, the modification of micronutrients, and the uptake of vitamins A and D.

Exposure in animals reduces milk and egg yields. The contamination of milk and meat is passed on to humans after consumption of these products. Aflatoxins affect cereals, oilseeds, spices, tree nuts, milk, meat, and dried fruits. Maize and groundnut are major sources of human exposure because of their higher susceptibility to contamination and frequent consumption.

The toxins are most prevalent within developing countries in tropical regions and the problem is expected to be further exacerbated by climate change.

The high incidence of aflatoxin throughout sub-Saharan Africa aggravates an already food-insecure situation. Agricultural productivity is hampered by contamination, compromising food availability, access, and utilization. Unless aflatoxins in crops and livestock are effectively managed, marketable production and food safety cannot improve. Thus, the economic benefits of increased trade cannot be achieved.
Aflatoxins cost farmers and countries hundreds of millions of dollars annually. These losses have caused crops to be moved out of regions, companies to go bankrupt, and entire agricultural communities to lose stability.

IITA staff producing aflasafeâ„¢ in the lab. Source: R. Bandyophadyay, IITA.
IITA staff producing aflasafeâ„¢ in the lab. Source: R. Bandyophadyay, IITA.

aflasafeâ„¢ to the rescue
An innovative scientific solution in the form of biocontrol has been developed by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). This breakthrough technology,already widely used in the United States, reduces aflatoxins during both crop development and postharvest storage, and throughout the value chain.

IITA and USDA-ARS have been collaborating since 2003 to adapt the biocontrol for Africa. They achieved significant breakthroughs that resulted in the development of an indigenous aflatoxin technology in Nigeria, now called aflasafeâ„¢. aflasafeâ„¢ contains four native atoxigenic strains of Aspergillus flavus that outcompetes and replaces the toxin-producing strains, thus reducing aflatoxin accumulation.

IITA and partners conducted trials in Nigeria. Native atoxigenic strains reduced contamination by up to 99%. The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) gave IITA provisional registration to begin testing of the inoculum of a mixture of four strains under the trade name aflasafeâ„¢. In 2009 and 2010, maize farmers who applied aflasafeâ„¢ achieved, on average, a reduction of >80% in aflatoxin contamination at harvest and 90% after storage.

Groundnut farmers also achieved more than 90% reduction in Nigeria and Senegal using a version of aflasafeâ„¢ with native atoxigenic strains from Senegal.

In the future
The success recorded so far in the control of aflatoxin comes from aflasafeâ„¢ produced in the lab. Consequently, to meet the demands of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, large-scale production is needed.

In Nigeria, for instance, nearly 30% of harvested maize has high levels of aflatoxins and is prone to being rejected by the feed industry. In Kenya, last year because of aflatoxin contamination, more than two million bags of maize were declared unfit for human consumption in the Eastern and the Coast provinces. Some countries, such as Senegal, have lost groundnut export market to the European Union due to aflatoxin contamination.

Commercial production of aflasafeâ„¢ would allow easy and widespread availability of a simple solution to the most recalcitrant problem affecting farmers and consumers. The monetized value of lives saved, quality of life gained, and improved trade by reducing aflatoxin far exceeds the cost of aflasafeâ„¢ production.

Wu F and Khlangwiset P. 2010. Health economic impacts and cost-effectiveness of aflatoxin-reduction strategies in Africa: case studies in biocontrol and post-harvest Interventions. Food Additives & Contaminants. Part A, 27: 4, 496—509, First published on: 05 January 2010 (iFirst).

Related website

Aflatoxin management website – www.aflasafe.com

A tale of an African farmer

Farmer Baba Alphonse, northern Benin
Farmer Baba Alphonse, northern Benin

Sixty-year old farmer Alphonse Ogoule-Okpe of Ogoukpate Village, about 40 km from Porto Novo in northern Bénin, had all but abandoned cassava and maize farming.

Many years ago, insects (mealybug and cassava green mite) and diseases (such as blight) had attacked his cassava crops and “Baba” Alphonse and many like him in his village were hit hard because of the low yields and loss of a food and cash crop. The problem was compounded by the poor soil conditions in the fields.

During a visit to the small village by IITA scientists who distributed planting materials of improved IITA cassava varieties, Baba Alphonse said, “I would be happy if the problem with these insects and diseases will be over. Thanks to IITA, I can plant a new variety that is resistant to the problem pests.”

Unknown to farmer Alphonse, a few kilometers away from his farm was where the predator of the cassava green mite, T. aripo, was first released in Benin by IITA—way back in 1993. That—and his use of the new varieties from IITA would help ensure better cassava harvests for his family and the community.

Drought-tolerant maize

Drought-tolerant maize developed and disseminated by IITA, other international agricultural research centers, and national partners are helping farmers make a profit despite droughts in northern Nigeria. Drought remains one of the major limiting factors to profitable maize production in Africa.

“The drought-tolerant maize varieties have mitigated the effects of drought on maize production and farmers are having better incomes,” says Olumide Ibikunle, Research and Development Manager, Premier Seeds. “The seed industry is also better off because demand for maize has actually increased.”

Over the years IITA, CIMMYT, and partners have released several drought-tolerant varieties including Samaz 16, ZM309, and ZM523, in sub-Saharan Africa to cushion the effects of drought on the crop and, ultimately, on farmers and their households.

Researchers and other stakeholders said that developing such varieties will boost maize production, enhancing not only incomes but more importantly food security.

O.A. Adenola: More awareness needed on the dangers of aflatoxins

Pastor O.A. Adenola
Pastor O.A. Adenola. Photo by IITA

The president of one of the strongest crop networks in Nigeria, Pastor O.A. Adenola, talks about the need for stakeholders to join forces against aflatoxin spread and other issues. This is an excerpt from his interview with Godwin Atser.

Do farmers understand what aflatoxins are?
They may see the fungus on the maize cob but really many Nigerian farmers do not know the danger in what they see: what it is… what effects it has on people as a result of eating grain that is already contaminated… I think we need a lot of awareness, a lot of teaching to get our farmers to know the dangers of aflatoxins in our foods. The problem is that you don’t see them and their effect physically. If you look at the cassava mealybug, for instance, the farmer sees the plant die. In the case of aflatoxins, you don’t see them causing anything bad to maize; it is the after-effect that damages people’s health.

What can be done to bring the message to the people?
It has to involve a collective effort from all of us: the research institutes, the Agricultural Development Programs, the Maize Association of Nigeria, and the media. We won’t make any progress if we don’t collaborate to get the farmers to know the importance of the effect of aflatoxins on human beings and on animals.

You participated in the Doubling Maize Project. What were your observations?
At the time the project was initiated in 2006, the maize production level on average was 1.5 t/ha. The project target was to double production—from 1.5 to 3 t/ha. A farmer who could not combine production inputs to give us 3 t/ha was not qualified to be involved in the scheme because we did not want to increase the area planted. We wanted to increase production per unit area. The intention was to intensify production so that we could double what was on the ground.

So what happened?
I tell you, farmers made more than 3 t/ha! Also if the technology is properly applied, Nigeria can easily double maize production.

What effort is your association making to disseminate some of the findings of that research to increase maize production?
The maize network is stronger than the networks of other crops in Nigeria, maybe, because of the facilities we have at IITA that are linking us up properly with research and also with Ministries of Agriculture all over the country. And since we were the beneficiaries of the research findings, it was easier for us and for our members to adopt the improved technologies.

All that the researchers were telling us was “You can be better farmers if you take the technology.” I must tell you that every farmer is out there in the field because he wants to make more money. So the benefit is good enough to propel the technology.

How is the collaboration between MAAN and IITA?
Excellent! I have been relating with IITA since 1984 and when this Association was formed in 1992, it was formed in IITA. Since then we have had very good collaboration.

What can IITA do to make this partnership grow?
Whenever there is a need and we call on IITA, they have always answered. The Director General and the maize “chief”, Dr Sam Ajala and his team, have been very cooperative. That collaboration is what is important. If you have a problem and you call your friend and he answers, then you are okay.