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Seed Production Technology for Africa

Start date 2016 – End date 2020

Smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa regularly use outdated maize hybrids and open pollinated varieties that limit yield potential. Studies show that only 57 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s maize growing area is planted with recently purchased seed. The average weighted age of hybrids grown in the region is 15 years compared to an average of less than 5 years in highly productive world regions. This is despite the availability of improved maize hybrids developed to help farmers deal with an array of stresses such as drought, pests, and diseases. These improved varieties often do not reach smallholders because of inadequate seed systems and marketing opportunities.

The Seed Production Technology for Africa (SPTA) project was launched to improve access for smallholders to high quality seed of modern maize varieties. The project targets small and medium seed production companies in the region to strengthen their capacity to produce high quality hybrid maize more efficiently, and at reduced cost. These modern hybrids will improve yield in drought prone and low fertility production conditions that are common among resource-constrained African smallholders, particularly those that are not able to access adequate fertilizers.

SPTA efforts will contribute to a more vibrant private seed sector by providing higher quality hybrid seed using a technology that fits well within existing production systems of small and medium enterprise seed companies. This will help to improve productivity gains for smallholder farmers and ease the burden on public funding for development.

The SPTA project originated from the Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) project that concluded in 2015. IMAS focused on developing maize hybrids that could use nitrogen fertilizer more efficiently to deliver higher yields under low fertility conditions.

How SPTA works

SPTA seeks to reduce seed production costs and increase seed quality so that seed companies can produce sufficient quantities of high quality hybrid seed using single or three-way cross hybrids. Currently, African seed production actors prevent self-fertilization during certified seed production by detasselling, a process which involves physical removal of the pollen-producing tassels of specific maize plants during the growing season. This process requires considerable time and labor, and reduces seed yield potential of the detasselled seed-bearing plants (female plants). If detasselling is not done in a timely and accurate way, pollen from the female plants can pollinate the ears, causing contamination and reduced seed quality. The SPTA process eliminates the detasselling step by utilizing a naturally occurring maize gene – Ms44 – to create female parent plants that do not produce pollen, eliminating the need to manually remove the pollen-producing tassels. The cross-pollination between this female parent and the male parent is therefore more reliable, efficient, and cost effective. Through SPTA, small and medium sized seed companies will be able to produce high quality hybrid seed at a lower cost, enabling them to deliver improved quality seed of modern varieties more effectively.

Project Partners

The project is a joint initiative that brings together the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), CortevaTM Agriscience Agriculture Division of DowDuPontTM, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Agricultural Research Council of South Africa (ARC).

  • Farmer Evans participated in an on-farm trials to test the Ms44 hybrids in Domoboshwava, Zimbabwe. Photo Credit J. CAIRNS/CIMMYT
  • Two plants from a pollen producing maize crop and a non pollen producing maize crop: Photo credit H. DeGroote/CIMMYT
  • Two plants from a pollen producing maize crop and a non pollen producing maize crop: Photo credit H. DeGroote/CIMMYT
  • Two plants from a pollen producing maize crop and a non pollen producing maize crop: Photo credit H. DeGroote/CIMMYT
  • Farmer Edma Shanguri holds a harvest of Ms44 hybrids from an on farm trial in Murewa, Zimbabwe: Photo Credit J. CAIRNS/CIMMYT

Funding Institutions

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Principal coordinator

Michael Scott Olsen


Improve the grain yield potential of stress tolerant maize hybrids in low fertility environments.

Develop a new hybrid production platform capable of producing sufficient early generation seed to support production of high quality certified seed each year.

Reduce the production costs of seed partners in the sub-Saharan region.