Seeds of prosperity: Equator Seeds, Northern Uganda

Posted on Eastern Africa News, Eastern Africa News, Media&Stories, News & Stories, News Articles, Publications, Seed System News, Seed Systems, November 3, 2019

“80 percent of farmers in northern Uganda still use the farm-saved or recycled seed, which we consider as our biggest competitor. ”

Dorine Akoth, a demo-farmer in Gulu northern Uganda, admiring a maize plant on her demo plot. Photo: Joshua Masinde/CIMMYT.

“ Through demonstrations and our local seed marketing network, farmers can see how well the drought and disease tolerant hybrid UH5051 performs, even under erratic climate. This has helped them to gradually adopt our improved seed.” says Equator Seeds CEO, Tonny Okello.

A worker at the Equator Seeds processing plant in Gulu displaying 2-kg UH5051 maize seed packs. Photo: Joshua Masinde/CIMMYT

Discover this successful partnership between STMA and Equator Seeds to reach out maize smallholder farmers in Northern Uganda and South Sudan to improve their productivity and resilience here

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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