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.
In 2018, Bill Gates launched a campaign
about climate change, because he worried not enough people understood the
dimensions of the problem. In a
blog post, he reminded readers that not only the energy sector is concerned,
but also “the other 75%” — in particular agriculture and food systems. We need
innovations to reduce our carbon footprint, Gates explained, but also to help
the most vulnerable to cope with the effects of growing climate risks.
Rainfed smallholder farming families in
sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk, as their livelihoods depend on
unpredictable rainfall patterns. By the 2030s drought and rising temperatures
could render 40% of the continent’s maize-growing area unsuitable
for current varieties.
Drought-tolerant maize varieties could improve the climate resilience and the livelihoods of millions family farmers across Africa. The innovations offered by these varieties are affordable and scalable.
A team from Gates Notes came to drought-prone
Machakos county in Kenya to visit farmers who are growing drought-tolerant hybrid
maize. This variety, developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT) and sold in the county by Dryland Seeds Limited under the SAWA
brand, can yield up to 20% more than other drought-tolerant hybrids, explained
the company’s managing director, Ngila Kimotho.
Despite limited rainfall in the village of Vyulya,
Ms Nduku harvested well-filled maize cobs. Her neighbour, who grows a local
variety, had a less successful harvest.
CIMMYT developed these varieties under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) initiative, a ten-year project which finished in 2015. This work is continuing under the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) initiative, which is developing maize varieties that cope well with drought and other climate stresses. So far 3.5 million farmers in 13 African countries are benefitting from stress-tolerant maize varieties.
‘’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.
“My name is Mallam Idris Biye, but my
people here call me Yellow Biye, perhaps because I am fair in complexion,
compared to many of my neighbours. I live in Biye Village, Kaduna State,
Nigeria; I farm maize, soybean, sorghum and millet. But my favourite is maize.
Biye has always been an agrarian community
and we love farming very much. My parents and grandparents were farmers, and we
are proud to be among the very few people that feed humanity. But recently, we
discover that our land is not as fertile as it used to be. When we were
children, we witnessed huge harvests by our parents and, therefore, believed
that farming was a profitable economic venture. My parents and grandparents
built their houses and homes from proceeds in agricultural businesses. They travelled to Giwa, Funtua, Katsina and
Kaduna to sell off their grains in exchange for money. Although education was
not that common then, we had everything we wanted while growing up. But today,
things have changed for bad for farmers. We no more understand the onsets of
rains, as they change too frequently and unpredictably. There is also the
problem of very long dry spells, and even drought in the midst of supposedly
rainy season. So we were really concerned.
Added to these, is the problem of high incidences of pests and diseases
on our maize today may be fall army worms, tomorrow it is streak! Then there is
striga, that parasite weed that has become a nightmare to maize farmers in our
area. All these put together, we became unsure and worried of what our future
as farmers would be and more worried about the future of our children. Like
many of my village men, I thought of changing my profession maybe learn mason,
be a trader or some other work. But even then, I was seriously short of cash.
Already, I had withdrawn two of my children from the school they were attending
because I couldn’t meet their fee obligation. I relocated them to a cheaper
school, which was also very low in standard, compared to the previous one. The
small kiosk I operated to augment family income remained mostly closed because
it was out of stock.
This frustration led to one thing and another until we came in contact
with NAERLS, which is the STMA Promotion organization in Nigeria. First, we
made a passionate appeal to the NAERLS Adopted Village Project to make Biye
village one of its focal areas. Luckily for us, we were adopted. They built an
Agricultural Research and Extension Outreach Centre (AREOC) for us; facilitated
us into forming strong farmers groups; linked us to credit facilities with a
Microfinance Bank in Zaria and provided us several extension materials from
which we learn a lot in agricultural production, marketing and utilization.
Through the NAERLS Adopted village project, the STMA Promotional team
got to us, and this tremendously changed our life. My major concern in my maize
farms had been on how to access maize varieties that can withstand long dry
spells, striga-infested soils and soils low on nitrogen. The STMA Project is
like a miracle, a godsend! The team work with us farmers as equals in the
agricultural venture, not like some ‘superior people’. The field demonstrations
we had together was very participatory, a learning process for all of us.
Besides linking us to seeds and other agro-input suppliers, we receive so much
extension and advisory support from them.
Just in three years (2016-2018), my story has changed! The STMA project
empowered me with the necessary information and linkages to become a proud
farmer again! My 2018 harvest was a bumper. And I’m not the only one; all of us
that embraced the STMA innovation have been smiling to the bank, and we’re well
respected in our community. I recently purchased a new motorbike and I
conveniently feed my household with nutritious foods through proceeds from my
maize farms. My children are all back to our schools of choice and high
standards. My shop in Samaru Market is fully stocked. In all, I am happy to be
identified with the NAERLS-STMA team.
recognition of the impact of STMA activities on our farming businesses in Biye
community, our farmers’ cooperatives presented to NAERLS a Distinguished Award
of Excellence in supporting development activities in the community.