Agri body to develop drought tolerant maize varieties

William Chebusit,64,a former Councillor with his maize farm at Elenerai In Narok West.He lost several heads of beef cattle to deadly lumpy skin disease but that never stopped him from pursuing beef farming. PHOTOS:ROBERT KIPLAGAT.

A maize research body has launched a project to curb devastating effects of the environment on crop production in Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement centre (CIMMYT) and its partners will develop new and improved maize varieties and hybrids with resistance and tolerance to drought, low soil fertility, diseases such as Maize Lethal Necrosis and pests. The project is known as Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA).

“STMA will use modern breeding technologies that will confer the desired resistance to pests and diseases and tolerance to climatic stresses like drought and heat to benefit farmers within their socio-economic capabilities, that often dictate their access to important farm inputs like fertilisers and improved seed,” said Tsedeke Abate, Project Leader of STMA.

The project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development.

The four-year project will put improved maize varieties in the hands of nearly five and a half million smallholder households by end of 2019. The project will also ensure women participation across the maize value chain from production to retail.

Over 35 million hectares of cultivated maize in SSA is rainfed. Climate change is heightening the intensity and frequency of drought in farmers’ fields. At the same time, maize productivity is further reduced by low fertility soils prevalent in most parts of Africa, yet the majority of smallholder farmers cannot afford the recommended amounts of nitrogen fertilisers.

These, in addition to other stresses increase the risk of crop failure that negatively affects income, food security and nourishment of millions of smallholder farmers and their families. STMA will draw from successes of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa and Improved Maize for African Soils projects, which successfully developed and deployed over 250 improved drought-tolerant and nitrogen-use efficient maize varieties.

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