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.

Ethiopian maize farmers fast adopting new drought-tolerant maize hybrid to boost their productivity and resilience.

Posted on dtma, Eastern Africa News, Eastern Africa News, News, News & Stories, Newsletter, Seed System News, July 11, 2019

‘’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.

Sequare Regassa feeding her grand-daughter (credit: CIMMYT / Simret Yasabu)

Since her 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.

During a 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 companies

Under the 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.

The 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

After 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 BH661.

Sequare Regassa in front of her field, prepared for maize planting
(credit: CIMMYT / Simret Yasabu)

‘’If 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.’’  

With higher 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.

‘’Like 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. 

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.

Meet Hajia, a Nigerian maize woman farmer enthusiast about her collaboration with STMA

Posted on annual meetings, Media&Stories, News & Stories, News Articles, News release, West Africa News, May 5, 2019

“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 economic emancipation.

      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 job.

     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.

Hajia’s house she built thanks to better maize harvests after adopting STMA seeds

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.

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.

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