CIMMYT breeders selecting new CIMMYT line candidates in stage 4, scoring hybrid entries according to their drought tolerance in Kiboko research station – 5 September 2019
Posts Tagged ‘drought tolerant maize’
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.
Read Bill Gates’ blog ” You’ve probably never heard of CGIAR, but they are essential to feeding our future.”
Watch Gates notes’ video on drought-tolerant maize for Africa.
‘’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.
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.
‘’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.
“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. In 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.
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.
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.