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DTMA strengthens research and extension links in Southern Africa

Largely because commercial farmers have shifted to cash crops such as tobacco and horticulture, smallholder farmers now account for 70-80% of food production in Zimbabwe, and they have little access to credit, according to Danisile Hikwa, Principal Director of the Department of Research and Specialist Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development. “There is simply no money,” said Hikwa, explaining that the lack of credit schemes for small homesteads hinders food growers’ access to inputs such as seed and fertilizer.

Discussions on this and other important topics emerged as part of recent interactions with researchers, government officials, and representatives from seed companies and non-governmental organizations in Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia by Drought Tolerant Maize in Africa (DTMA) project leader Tsedeke Abate. “Government officials in the three countries appreciated the role that CIMMYT is playing to improve maize production in the region,” said Abate.

In the company of CIMMYT maize breeder Cosmos Magorokosho, maize physiologist Jill Cairns, and seed systems specialist Peter Setimela, in Zimbabwe Abate visited the extension department, Ministry of Agriculture Mechanization and Irrigation Development, and met with acting Technical Director Kennedy Mabehla and the acting Deputy Director and Training Specialist Godfrey Tore. Touring field experiments in Save Valley and Chiredzi, the CIMMYT group complimented technical assistant Stanley Gokoma and his team on how well managed the sites were. They also identified droughtprone Chisumbanje and Zaka as potential areas to pilot DTMA varieties. The team visited CIMMYT partner and leading seed producer Seed Co Limited, hosted at the Rattray Arnold Research Centre. “Zimbabwe has an important history in maize seed production,” said Abate. “They introduced maize hybrids on a commercial scale in 1932—the second country to do so after the USA.”

During a National Coordination Unit meeting in Zambia, Abate joined stakeholders who discussed holistic approaches for addressing livelihood and development challenges in the maize value chain. One topic was the low levels of fertilizer use in Africa—on average only 9 kilograms per hectare, due to the high price of this input and national and farm-level resource constraints. An MSc student from the University of Zambia demonstrated a coating material (Agrotain) for fertilizer applications which increases the efficiency of fertilizer use by 50%.

The DTMA team visited government officials and representatives of seed companies and of World Vision in Malawi, where the drought tolerant open pollinated maize varieties ZM309 and ZM523 are available to farmers and drought tolerant hybrids are in the pipeline. Alfred Mtukuso, Director of the Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS), expressed his appreciation for CIMMYT’s partnership, which benefits smallholder farmers in Malawi. “Research capacity building efforts by CIMMYT have also contributed to the professional growth of young scientists,” he added.

Also praising DTMA contributions in Malawi, Principal Secretary of Agriculture Jeffrey Luhanga said the government is pursuing a subsidy scheme whereby farmers will receive seed and fertilizer coupons and the opportunity to select varieties, including ZM309 (farmers’ favorite as green mealie) and ZM523. The scheme is expected to benefit an estimated 1.5 million households initially and will be scaled up to reach 100,000 more through President Joyce Banda’s Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction. As part of its support for agriculture, the government provides free airtime for radio and television broadcasts of agricultural technology promotions.