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Safeguarding seeds against agricultural risks

Jill Cairns Photo credit: FarmD
Jill Cairns
Photo credit: FarmD

A webinar on Strengthening and Enhancing Seed Systems to Better Manage Agricultural Risk, was presented by Dr Jill Cairns (pictured), Crop Physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

We caught up with Jill today, a day before her webinar.

Whom would you really like to see at this seminar?
Mainly people working – or interested – in agriculture, climate change and risk management in sub-Saharan Africa.

What would you like the take-home message to be?
That inadequate rainfall depresses and destabilises yields in sub-Saharan Africa. One could say that is a truism. However, beyond this doom and gloom there is good news. CIMMYT in collaboration with IITA and partners in participating countries has developed drought-tolerant seed which is already having impact in farmers’ fields.

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What inspired the idea for this webinar?
A global connection actually. The World Bank has a forum called FARMD – Forum for Agriculture and Risk Management in Development. They approached Marianne Bänziger, CIMMYT’s Deputy Director General for Research and Partnerships, to present at a November 2014 FARMD conference on Managing Agricultural Risks in a Changing Climate in sub-Saharan Africa. The idea was to understand climate change and its implications for agricultural risk management. CIMMYT was approached because of its considerable experience in seed systems and conservation agriculture to reduce production vulnerability for maize in Africa.

And how and when did you – Jill – come into the picture then?
I represented Marianne at that World Bank conference. The presentation led to a lively discussion on the potential of drought-tolerant seed to reduce maize yield variability in Africa. There is a misconception that drought-tolerant maize yield lower in non-drought years and thus has negative production and economic consequences for farmers. However this is not true. The fact is that drought-tolerant maize yields as much as commercial varieties in farmers’ fields. And in many cases, it in fact yields more than current commercial varieties. FARMD approached me after the conference to present again to a wider audience, so here I am!

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