Latest STMA Bulletin is out

Posted on annual meetings, Eastern Africa News, Media&Stories, News & Media, Newsletter, Newsletters, Publications, Southern Africa News, October 17, 2019

Discover the latest from the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) initiative. This issue talks about product profiling, costing of maize breeding, highlights of CIMMYT’s Kenya Annual Partner Days and portraits of Kenyan farmers who have adopted stress-tolerant maize varieties.  READ HERE

Farmers adopting drought tolerant Maize in Makueni county, Kenya

Posted on Eastern Africa News, Media&Stories, News, News & Media, News & Stories, News articles, News release, Press room, Seed System News, October 14, 2019

Swedish journalists Eric Abel and Anna Liljemalm who are writing a book on climate change and seed visited the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa project in Kenya from Sept. 9-11, 2019.

Journalists from Sweden in action to understand how maize breeding can help Kenyan farmers adapt to climate change. Photo : CIMMYT/Bossuet

We met some farmers who adopted drought tolerant maize hybrid SAWA from Dryland Seeds Ltd (DSL) in drought-prone Makueni county.

Dolly Muatha is a 49 years-old demo farmer with four children.

Dolly Muatha, demo farmer in Makueni county shows her maize grain surplus.
Photo: CIMMYT/Masinde

Because her fields are well placed near the road, she has benefited for the last three years from DSL support to demonstrate the yield potential of SAWA DT maize in this terraced landscape.

Dolly likes SAWA ‘’because it produces 2 to three beautiful cobs and it matures early. In case rains stop when the maize is at knee height, even before tassel and silks form, that is where you see its potential compared to non-drought tolerant varieties.’’

Alex Somba, his wife and son in front of their house, near Wote. Photo: CIMMYT/Masinde

Alex Somba 45 year-old farmer near Wote saw how SAWA performed at Muatha’s farm and tried it out in 2017.

He usually practices dry planting from October 1, as rains usually start around the third or end October, until end of the year.

‘’SAWA beats other popular hybrids because of its early maturity and drought tolerance. It resists well to Grey Leaf Spot and grain stores well, resists weevil.’’

‘’If rains start end of October and after 2 weeks of rains there is a dry spell of 2 weeks, other varieties will perform badly whereas SAWA copes relatively well with such erratic rains patterns,’’ he added.

Providing good agronomic advice to the farmers is important to benefit fully from new varieties. Joyce, DSL field officer pointed out that ‘’ a good advice I usually give for farmers like Alex is optimum crop spacing.’’ For better yields, she would advise to practice 20cm x 30 cm spacing, one seed at a time. Traditionally farmers would put up to 5 seeds per planting hole, which will generate small cobs and much lower yields.

Resilience and livelihoods improved for 3.5 million African farmers now planting stress tolerant maize varieties

Posted on annual meetings, Media&Stories, News, News & Media, News & Stories, Press room, Southern Africa News, May 24, 2019

The Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project held its annual meeting May 7-9, 2019 in Lusaka, Zambia to discuss the achievements of the past year and priorities going forward.

Farmer participatory evaluation of STMA hybrids compared to popular varietis

STMA Project Leader Cosmos Magoroksho recalled what STMA project launched in 2016 is aiming at “Maize is grown on 30 million hectares in SSA, and more than 208 million farmers depend on it as a staple crop. However, average maize yields in SSA are among the lowest in the world. STMA is a multi-stakeholder project designed to develop, test and deliver improved maize varieties that can mitigate the combined effects of multiple stresses in farmer fields and provide reliable decent yields even in challenging conditions like drought or low soil fertility.”

“STMA proved it is possible to combine multiple stress tolerance and still get good yields. One of the greatest aspects of STMA are great partnerships which have only grown stronger through the years. We are now the proud partners of over 100 seed companies,” said B.M. Prasanna, director of the CIMMYT Global Maize Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), in his keynote address. 

CIMMYT and partners across SSA are working together in the fight against challenges such as drought, maize lethal necrosis (MLN) and fall armyworm (FAW) using innovative technologies such as doubled haploids, marker assisted back crossing, and germplasm screening to develop improved stress tolerant maize for farmers. The efforts are paying off—in 2018, 3.5 million smallholder farmers planted stress tolerant maize varieties in 10 African countries, Prasanna said.

STMA Annual review participants visited ZAMSEED – Lusaka 8 May 2019

On May 8, participants visited local seed company partners, namely Afriseed, Zamseed and QualiBasic Seed to learn more about the opportunities and challenges of producing stress tolerant maize seed for smallholder farmers. Afriseed CEO Stephanie Angomwile discussed her business strategy and passion for agriculture with participants. She expressed her gratitude for the support CIMMYT has provided the company, including access to drought tolerant maize varieties as well as capacity development opportunities for her staff.

At QualiBasic Seeds (QBS), CIMMYT staff and partners were given the opportunity to learn and ask questions about the seed multiplication process in Zambia and the importance of high quality, genetically pure foundation seeds for seed companies.

Bhola Nath Verma, principal crop breeder at ZAMSEED explained climate change has visible impact on Zambian maize sector as the main maize growing basket moved 500 km North due to increased drought. Verma values the partnership with STMA as he can source very drought-tolerant breeding material from CIMMYT and IITA allowing him to develop very early varieties that escape drought and bring much needed yield stability to farmers in Zambia, Angola, DRC, Botswana and Tanzania.

Maize Youth Innovators 2019

The meeting concluded with an awards ceremony for the winners of the 2019 MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards – Africa, established by MAIZE in collaboration with the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD). These awards recognize the contributions of young women and men below 35 years of age who are implementing innovations in African maize-based agri-food systems, including research-for-development, seed systems, agribusiness, and sustainable intensification. This is the second year of the award, and the first time it has been held in Africa. Winners include Hildegarde Dukunde of Rwanda and Mila Lokwa Giresse of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the change agent category, Admire Shayanowako of the Republic of South Africa and Ismael Mayanja of Uganda in the research category, and Blessings Likagwa of Malawi in the farmer category.

Participatory varietal selection to decipher what maize smallholder farmers want

Posted on annual meetings, Eastern Africa News, Eastern Africa News, Media&Stories, News, News & Media, News & Stories, News Articles, News release, Seed System News, April 9, 2019

Tabitha Kamau inspecting her drought-tolerant maize variety in Katheini location, Kenya – Photo credit:Joshua Masinde

Tabitha Kamau, 29, is scrutinizing a maize demonstration plot on which 12 different varieties were planted in November 2018. “What I am looking for is a maize variety that produces a lot, even when there is scarce rainfall,” says the single mother of three, who lives in Katheini location with her mother on a quarter an acre of land.

Together with 350 other smallholder farmers from Katheini and neighboring villages of Machakos County, a water stress region, Kamau is assessing the maize crops and ranking them based on her preferred traits.

Like her peers when asked what makes a good maize variety, she gives high scores to drought tolerant (DT) varieties and those that can yield large and nicely filled cobs despite the prolonged dry spell over the last two months. For five years, Kamau has been planting KDV4, a DT open pollinated variety (OPV) on the family land and another piece of leased plot. This early variety matures in 100 to 110 days and adapted to the dry mid-altitude conditions.

KDV4 was released by the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) using the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)’s germplasm. It is currently marketed by Dryland Seed Company and Freshco Seeds, targeting primarily farmers in the water-stress counties of Machakos, Kitui and Makueni in the lower eastern regions of Kenya.

The early maturity attribute of varieties like KDV presents a good opportunity for its adopters, says Kamau. “If I am able to harvest in three and a half months or less compared to four months or more for other varieties, I can sell some grain to neighbors still awaiting their harvest and want to feed their families.”

“I heard of new varieties that can germinate well and produce lots of leaves,” Catherine Musembi says. This woman farmer from Kivaani location looks for maize that performs well even under heat and water stress. She likes maize plants with high biomass, as the foliage is used to feed the family’s three cows and two goats.  

Understanding farmers’ perspective to keep research demand-driven

The Social-Economics Program (SEP) team at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has been undertaking participatory maize variety evaluations since 2016 in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, in locations where the regional on-farm trials have been planted every year during the main maize growing season.  The Machakos farmer varietal selection was facilitated by a team from KALRO Katumani on February 18-19, 2019. This exercise is part of the 2018 mid-season evaluations, which will then culminate in end-season assessments a month later.

Katheini women farmers ranking 12 maize varieties during a STMA participatory varietal evaluation, Kenya, February 2019 – Photo credit: Joshua Masinde

Participatory farmer evaluations are used to give crucial feedback to our maize breeding work. First, farmers get an opportunity to state what traits are important for them and rank them according to their importance. Then, participants evaluate varieties planted in the trial and give a score on individual trait and the overall performance for each variety planted. And they conclude the exercise by rating the best three plots.

“Our work is to tease out the information regarding which traits contribute to a good score in the overall score’’, Bernard Munyua, SEP Research Assistant CIMMYT explains. Statistical analysis of the farmers score cards will reveal if the criteria importance stated initially play a strong role in the overall appreciation of a variety. For instance, farmers may give high importance to height or biomass, yet it may not play a role in their ranking of best varieties. 

‘’Such data is important to maize breeders to support future variety improvement work,” Munyua notes.  “Moreover, by dis-aggregating the farmers opinions by region and socioeconomic attributes such as gender, education and income, we can define the priority traits by region or farmers socioeconomic profiles. It helps better target maize breeding work according to the needs on the ground and gives useful knowledge to seed companies for their seed marketing strategy’’, he adds.

For instance, in the Eastern part of Kenya, farmers might be interested in traits such as drought tolerance, early maturity and disease resistance. In central Kenya where dairy farming is commonly practiced, a variety with more biomass can be an important factor. In western Kenya, they could be more interested in grain yields and cob characteristics to improve their sales after harvest.

Agnes Nthambi in her demonstration plot – Photo credit: Joshua Masinde.

Agnes Nthambi, the farmer who hosted the demonstration plot, is very positive about her participation, as she learned about some of the ideal agronomic practices as well as the performance of new varieties. “On this trial, I learned that spacing was about two times shorter than we are generally used to. Even with the more constricted spacing, the maize has performed much better than what we are used to seeing,” she says. She also learned that fertilizer is applied at the time of planting. In her case, she normally applies fertilizer much later after germination has already occurred.

Nthambi says her family cannot afford losing both the fertilizer and the seed in case the rains fail. This time, she expects a good harvest from the one-acre farm, to supplement her family income.

Solving the ‘’last mile’’ challenge of maize seeds

Posted on Eastern Africa News, Eastern Africa News, Media&Stories, News, News & Media, News & Stories, March 15, 2019

Agrodealers play a pivotal role in delivering the gains of the green revolution to millions of smallholders in Africa, providing access to key inputs like improved maize varieties. So far, seed systems research has mainly focused on the factors influencing farmers’ adoption of new varieties, and, to a lesser extent, why seed companies will invest or not in a new improved variety. While private, independent agrodealers are key to provide new improved seeds, fertilizers, and agronomic advices, relatively little is known about who they are, their needs and constraints, and the ways in which they secure and grow their business.

Philomena Mwangi in her agrodealer shop in Ngarariga village

Understanding how to better support agro-dealers is important for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to ensure that new varieties reach the largest possible number of farmers. Under the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project, CIMMYT has launched a new research effort to better understand agrodealers in Kenya, with a specific focus on maize seed marketing.

Researchers are now testing the tools and expect to begin field work in March 2019, during the next maize planting season. ‘’We want to collect detailed quantitative and qualitative data about the way agrodealers choose what maize varieties they sell, and how they market these seeds to farmers’’, explained CIMMYT associate scientist Pieter Rutsaert who leads the study. Such research will provide valuable insights for the seed sector to improve their marketing strategies, as well as to government agencies, NGOs and funders in order to better design future agro-dealer interventions, for a greater and more sustainable impact.

The million-shilling question

Enumerator Victor Kitoto explaining the investment game to Philomena Mwangi

The way questions are selected and phrased, and data collected is critical. ‘’Figuring out how to ask the right question to the right person is a hard business, especially when we ask agro-dealers to evaluate their own performance’’, recognized Rutsaert. For instance, how do you estimate the importance of maize seed sales compared to other inputs and services when the owner, like this seventy-year-old lady, proud owner of a farm input shop in Kikuyu town, is hesitant to provide information about her business to outsiders. You may get a lot of ‘’katikati’’ answers (average in kiswahili). Anticipating the challenges of collecting reliable and comparable data, Rutsaert’s team will use several visual tools, like illustrated cards, to facilitate conversations with interviewees. They will also use innovative exercises like the shop investment game, where owners are asked how they would invest one million Kenyan shillings (about US$10,000).

Standing behind the counter of her shop, with few bags of feeding supplements for dairy cattle and small pesticide bottles on dusty shelves, Philomena Muthoni Mwangi explained she had currently no maize seeds for sale. This small agrodealer in the village of Ngarariga, in central Kenya will restock her maize seeds at the onset of the rainy season, from a big agrovet shop nearby. This is quite common as agrodealers are not risktakers when it comes to selling new varieties, not knowing the future demand. Leftover seed stock after the planting season would severely reduce her potential profit as margins per bag are low. To address this issue, CIMMYT researchers will conduct an intercept farmer survey in the coming weeks, to better understand what farmers look for when buying maize seeds.

Agro-dealers are not a homogeneous group as there is a world apart between the Kikuyu town one stop shop visited earlier, and Mwangi’s small farm input shack. While both owners were enthusiast when asked the final exercise about their shop’s future and how they would invest if given one million shillings, their business models, seed marketing strategy and type of clients may differ a lot. This study will provide useful insights to design targeted seed scaling strategies that consider all kinds of agrodealers, moving away from a ‘’one-size-fits-all’’ approach.

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