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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.