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New climate-ready maize varieties released in Malawi

ZM 309 and ZM 523 have been a success in Malawi—locals from Balaka District, greeted the new varieties with song, dance, and a poem at the government launch and field day on 20 March 2009. Malawian farmers who planted them on on-farm demonstrations have even given them local names calling ZM 309 “Mkawa sala” (early-maturing) or “Msunga banja” (that which takes care of or feeds the family). About 300 demonstrations of the new open pollinated varieties (OPVs) have been set up in farmers’ fields.

“We are grateful to CIMMYT for technical, financial, and scientific support in developing these new varieties that are suitable for the drought-prone areas and will help the people of Malawi to alleviate poverty and hunger and cope with climate change; which these days is becoming a reality,” said Dr. Andrew Daudi, principal secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Malawi. “ZM 309 is going to be included in the national subsidy program for the 2009/10 growing season.”

Both varieties were developed for drought-prone areas with infertile soils in eastern and southern Africa through joint efforts by CIMMYT and Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. They are also resistant to maize streak virus, gray leaf spot, and other diseases.

“We at CIMMYT are happy to be associated with Malawi and commend the Government of Malawi for boldly supporting its farmers through the national agricultural input subsidy program,” said Wilfred Mwangi, program leader, Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Project. “The rest of Africa is going to learn from Malawi.”

Malawi’s green revolution

Malawi is now a net exporter of maize to the region and is being looked to as an African success story due to its food self-sufficiency. This success is owed to the country’s agricultural input subsidy program, initiated by the government in 2005 after Malawi experienced one of its worst harvests in years. Farmers are supplied with improved maize seed and fertilizer at subsidized prices and can choose either hybrid or OPV seed. Seed Co, Malawi, plans to produce enough certified seed of the new varieties for farmers to plant in coming summer seasons. As well, both varieties are OPVs so farmers can save and re-use the seed optimally for up to three subsequent seasons.

Also organizing and participating in the launch from CIMMYT were Peter Setimela, seed systems specialist; Brian Chiputwa, research associate, Socio-Economics Program; and Anne Wangalachi, science writer/editor. CIMMYT is grateful to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in Malawi for supporting Innovation Learning Platform (ILeP) activities and the launch of the new varieties. Special thanks also goes to Dr. Andrew Daudi; Dr. Jeff Luhanga, controller of Agricultural Extension and Technical Services; and to Christine Mtambo, chief agricultural officer (crop production).

Similar field days will be held in Balaka District to raise awareness and allow farmers to interact freely with researchers, seed producers, and other stakeholders.