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How improved maize gives options to farmers

Improved seeds resilient to drought, disease and other stresses allow farming families to invest more in their livelihoods and children’s futures.

Maize is a staple food for 900 million poor consumers globally, who often rely on small-scale farmers for the food they find in the market. For these farmers, improved seeds that can thrive in the challenging environments they live are a gateway to higher yields and a better life. With traits offering greater resilience to drought, disease and other stresses, improved varieties allow farming families to invest more in their livelihoods and children’s futures.

One example is Leskari Ngoidma, a farmer from northern Tanzania, who in 2015 planted the drought tolerant maize variety HB513 known locally as ngamia, the Kiswahili word for camel. “I got 15 bags of maize from my one-acre farm. In a year when the rains are really bad like they were in 2015, I usually only manage to harvest at the most five bags. This is good seed!”

Through the platform provided by the CGIAR Research Program MAIZE, CIMMYT and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture works with over 300 governmental, non-governmental and private sector partners – especially from local seed sectors – to give small-scale farmers access to the best agricultural technologies. In 2015, these partnerships led to at least 64 new maize varieties being approved for release in 15 countries.

Peter Mutisya, sales and marketing director at MultiAgro Trading Main Suppliers (MAMS), described the popularity of an improved maize variety first released in 2013 in Tanzania. Yielding 8.5 to 10 tons per hectare under optimal conditions, successful on-farm demonstrations mean that in 2016 the company will produce 50 tons of MAMSH093 seed in Tanzania for the October short rains, with plans to spread to Kenya and Uganda. “Women farmers particularly love this maize variety because of its sweet taste and the quality protein it offers,” said Mutisya.

In addition to higher and more stable yields, most of the varieties combine several special traits into one seed. Three varieties in South Africa combine drought and heat tolerance, perform well in soils with low phosphorous and low nitrogen and are resistant to the diseases gray leaf spot, maize streak virus, and turcurium leaf blight.

In western Africa, 15 maize varieties released in 2015 will help farmers resist the deadly witchweed disease, or Striga. In Latin America, four new maize varieties were released with resistance to the tar spot complex disease that has emerged as an epidemic in recent years. In sub-Saharan Africa, 10 new maize varieties with quality protein content were released in 2015.

Learn more about how improved seeds are helping maize farmers throughout Africa and globally here.