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.
‘’Getting a good maize harvest every year, even
when it does not rain much, is important for my family’s welfare’’ says Sequare
Regassa, a widow and mother of four, while feeding her granddaughter with white
injera, a rollable flatbread, made of
white grain maize.
husband died, Sequare has been for many years the only bread winner for her
family. Her children have grown up and established their own families. The
whole extended family makes a living from their eight-hectare farm in Guba Sayo
district in Oromia Zone, Ethiopia.
On the two hectares Sequare cultivates on her own, she rotates maize with pepper, sweet potato and anchote, a local tuber similar to cassava. Like many farming families in the region, she primarily grows maize for household food consumption, prepared as bread, soup, porridge and snacks. Maize represents a third of cereals grown in Ethiopia. Cheaper than wheat or teff (a traditional millet grain in Ethiopia), maize is important for poor households as they mix maize flour with teff to make the national staple injera.
field visit in mid-April, Sequare was busy preparing the land for the next cropping
season. She wondered if rains will be good this year as the onset of rainy
season was quite late. Choice of maize variety could be crucial.
She used to
plant a late maturing hybrid released more than 25 years ago, BH660, the most
popular variety in the early 2000’s. However, this variety was not selected for
drought tolerance. Ethiopian farmers face increasing drought risks, like the
recent 2015 El Nino dry spell, severely impacting staple crop production, and leading
to food insecurity and grain price volatility.
Convincing demonstrations for farmers and seed
Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project, maize breeders from the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Ethiopian Institute
for Agricultural Research (EIAR) developed promising drought tolerant hybrids
which perform well under drought and normal conditions. After a series of
evaluations, BH661 emerged as the best candidate with 10% better on-farm grain yield,
higher biomass production, shorter maturity and 34 percent reduction in
lodging, compared to BH660. BH661 was released in 2011 for commercial
cultivation in the mid-altitude sub-humid and transition highlands.
The year after, as farmers experienced drought, the Ethiopian extension service organized BH661 on-farm demonstrations, while EIAR and CIMMYT breeders organized Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) trials. Farmers were impressed by the outstanding performances of BH661 during these demos and PVS trials and started asking for seeds immediately, forcing seed companies to quickly scale-up certified seed production of this new drought tolerant hybrid.
The Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA)
team assisted local seed companies to switch to BH661 in a series of trainings
and varietal trials. They were rapidly convinced as well to replace the old hybrid,
BH660. ‘’In addition to drought tolerance, BH661 is more resistant to important
maize diseases like Turcicum Leaf Blight and Grey Leaf Spot. For seed
companies, there is no change in the way the hybrid is produced compared to
BH660, but seed production of BH661 is much more cost-effective, ’’ explained
Dagne Wegary, CIMMYT maize breeder.
national Bako National Maize Research Center supplied breeder seeds to
certified seed producers—namely, Amhara Seed Enterprise (ASE), Bako
Agricultural Research Center (BARC), Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE), Oromia
Seed Enterprise (OSE) and South Seed Enterprise (SSE). Certified seeds were
then distributed through seed companies’ own sales teams, agricultural offices,
and non- governmental organizations, with the technical and extension support
of research centers.
Weatherproof hybrid harvests additional incomes
witnessing the performance of BH661 in a neighbor’s field, Sequare asked advice
from her local extension officer, and decided to adopt this hybrid along with
recommended agronomic practices. She is now able to produce between 11-12 tons per
hectare. She said her family life has changed forever since she started planting
farmers follow the recommended fertilizer application and other farming
practices, BH661 performs much better than the old BH660 variety,’’ explained Sequare.
“If we experience a drought, it may be not that bad thanks to BH 661’s drought
tolerance,’’ she added. Sequare buys her improved seeds from Bako Research Station,
as well as from farmers’ Cooperative Unions (FCU). The FCU access seeds from
various seed companies and sell to farmers in their respective districts. ‘’Many
around me are interested in growing BH661. Sometimes we may get less seeds than
requested as the demand exceeds the supply.’’
maize grain harvest, she is now able to better feed her chickens, sheep and cattle.
She also sells some surplus to the local market to get some additional income,
which she will spend on household necessities. Sequare observed that maize
prices increased in recent years, with 100 kg bag of maize sold at ETB 600 –
700 ($20-23), while it had previously been sold between ETB 200 – 400 ($7-14).
With the increased farmers’ wealth in her village, families were able to pay
collectively for the installation of a communal water point to get easy access
to clean water.
women’s role in a society, no one can forget the role maize has in our community.
It feeds us, it feeds our animals, cobs are used as fuel. A successful maize
harvest every year is a boon for our village,’’ Sequare concluded.
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.
“I am Hajia Asibi, a community women
leader, civil servant and a proud farmer. But my story and venture in
agriculture is not a conventional one.
I have not always been a farmer. In fact, I never dreamt of one day
becoming a farmer. In my youthful years, I believed farming was a profession
for the poor, the masses. Perhaps this perception was informed my archaic and
laborious methods of farming by everyone around me. Indeed, all the farmers I
knew then were poor, very poor. And because I had high taste for life, farming
for me was completely out of the equation. What I have always wanted to be was
a community leader who empower women and youths to self-empowerment and
If you grew up in northern Nigeria like I did, you will understand my
desire for women economic empowerment and freedom. The boy child was everything
the girl child wanted to be: with regard to education, marriage,
decision-making, political participation, gender roleplay and all. Luckily for
me, my parents were educated and very supportive to my desires; so I was among
the few fortunate ones to go to school with the strong backing of my parents.
After school, I joined the civil service, because of my belief in white-collar
A few years into government employment, I discovered to my utter dismay
that I could not survive our harsh economic environment with a salary job. I
struggled to meet my basic obligations as a parent, leader and citizen. After
trying several options, I found myself in agriculture. I therefore practised
agricultural business (production and sale of grains) as a means of additional
income. Unlike many other new entries into agriculture, I was not disappointed
by the drudgery and poverty surrounding its activities. These were well known
and expected by me.
And when I thought I have had enough of agricultural business,
NAERLS-IITA came to my rescue, with so many information on innovations and how
to increase profitability. They came with so much commitment and perseverance
that I had to listen to them. Indeed, I have heard about NAERLS many years ago,
especially through their broadcasts of agricultural programmes on radio and
television. Farmers in the north are fully aware of the laudable work of NAERLS
in moving agricultural production in this country. But with their activities in
the Stress-Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project, the Institute provided for
us new ways of making good money in maize farming.
Since 2006, I have been involved in the leadership of Sabon Gari Women Multipurpose Cooperatives. But we still did not make headway. When the NAERLS-STMA team came on board, they helped us strengthen our group through training, provision of information and linkages. Our members moved from farming acres to farming multiple hectares. We now harvest more than sixty (60) bags of maize from one hectare after we embraced the ST-maize varieties and other recommended farm management practices. Our profits soared dramatically and our lives took a very good turn. Our multipurpose Cooperatives now invests in many other profitable businesses, like rentals, and buying and selling of processing materials. One great testimonial of my encounter with the NAERLS-STMA team is my house, which I bought solely from my farm proceeds. During a time I was in dire need of accommodation, I was given an offer of a house for sale. The price was in millions of naira, so I thought I may never be able to buy it. Where would I get such money?’ I thought. That same season, through linkages with the right markets by the NAERLS team, I made over a million naira profit on my maize harvests. Of course, I also farm sorghum, millet and vegetables. But maize has since become my favourite crop. So I was excited over my sale and profit! Quickly, I made my first payment for the house, renovated it and did some restructuring in and around the house. I paid up the balance the following season, after another bumper harvest and sale.
Currently, I have five children in
different tertiary institutions: two of them in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria;
one in School of Health Technology, Markafi, Kaduna State; while the other two
are in Federal College of Education, Zaria. Farming helps me to meet all
educational obligations, as well as household needs.
I still work with the state government, but my focus now is more on
farming and agripreneurship. Indeed, I’m fulfilled as woman and leader in
society. I have the economic freedom I so much desired as a child, and I’m well
respected among my people.
Thank you, NAERLS-IITA team for bringing to me the needed information
for quality decision in my agricultural business. Thank you, STMA Promotional
team. I look forward to better days ahead in our collaboration.
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.