CIMMYT-Afghanistan’s “Sustainable Wheat and Maize Production in Afghanistan” project recently held its fourth annual maize workshop on 27 April to foster rapid and efficient maize research and production, review progress in 2014 and build a future strategy. CIMMYT-Afghanistan, with the support of the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), has been collaborating with the Agricultural Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA) to improve the country’s maize sector through the project since January 2012. This collaboration has led to the development and release of four open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) and three hybrids.
The workshop, attended by 39 participants from ARIA, Kabul University, the Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and CIMMYT, addressed these challenges and brainstormed ways to continue to improve maize development in the country. The event was inaugurated by Mohammad Qasem Obaidi, ARIA Director, while Rajiv Sharma, CIMMYT country representative, welcomed the participants and stressed the need to decentralize maize seed production to benefit farming communities.
Once a self-sufficient cereal producer generating up to 800,000 tons of maize in the 1960s-70s, Afghanistan now only produces around 300,000 tons annually–just 1.3 to 3.0% of estimated demand. A century of war and political instability has presented challenges to all sectors of society, including the food sector, which has depended on imported grain to feed the nearly 10 million people added to Afghanistan’s population since 2002. Today, increased peace, social stability and rising incomes are contributing to higher consumption of meat and meat products, further raising the demand for maize for feed and fodder.
Afghanistan’s National Agricultural Research System and ARIA have not devoted the needed manpower or resources to maize improvement as they have done with other commodities. The lack of seed of high-yielding, disease resistant maize varieties is a major factor in lagging domestic production. A weak input-output market is another constraint that limits average yields to only 2.0 tons per hectare (t/ha), compared to much higher yield from its two immediate neighbors, Iran (6.5 t/ha) and Pakistan (3.9 t/ha).
Presentations were also given by agronomists and breeders on maize populations, sowing time and the results of coordinated OPV and hybrid yield evaluation trials. Abdul Latif Rasekh and Mohammad Azmatyar, respective Heads of ARIA Agronomy and Breeding, summarized results and gave an overview of next season’s technical program. Mohammad Zubair, CIMMYT-Afghanistan Hub Coordinator, reported that in maize demonstrations, OPVs yielded over 4 t/ha, on average, which is a 100% increase over the national average. M. Rahim Mirzad, ARIA Head of Livestock, emphasized the importance of digestibility of maize stover for use as feed. The workshop concluded with recommendations on sowing time and on moving forward.