Scientists develop fertilizer friendly maize in Sub-Saharan Africa

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-7-11 9:39:03

Three new maize seed varieties that use fertilizer more efficiently and help smallholder farmers get higher yields has been unveiled in Sub Saharan Africa.

The varieties have been unveiled in Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe with support from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

"The seeds are expected to help farmers improve their degraded land and also reap the maximum benefit from farming," said an Associate scientist at CIMMYT Dr. Biswanath Das in Nairobi during an annual review on Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) meeting.

The seeds so far released are Western Kenya Seed's WH 507, Tanzania's HB 513 and PGS 63 in Zimbabwe. The East African regional seed company, Kenya Seed is due to release another variety later this year.

Das revealed that besides leading research under IMAS project that aims at developing and deploying traits to enhance yield of elite maize varieties under severe nitrogen depletion in the soil, CIMMYT opted to support the three seed companies in coming up with the traits as a way of transforming farming in the region.

"The company were already working on developing seeds with same traits and we simply opted to support them financially since we all work at making better the lives of farmers," Das revealed.

In sub Saharan Africa, maize farmers deal with drought, weeds and pests, but their problems starts with degraded, nutrient starved soils and inability to purchase enough nitrogen fertilizer.

Poor soils are believed to be behind the low maize production and increase food insecurity and income for the poor people in the region.

Sub Saharan Africa uses only nine kilograms of fertilizer per hectare, far less compared to Latin America that uses 73 kilograms and South East Asia that uses 300 kg.

According to Das, the organization is working at developing several varieties that will be unveiled to farmers through seed companies by the year 2015.

He revealed that a smallholder farmer who uses fertilizers harvests an additional one ton of maize per hectare.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Director Dr. Ephrahim Mukisira observed that the high nitrogen fertilizer cost is associated with limited financial resources to farmers.

"The project is expected to the declining maize yields under the severely nitrogen limited soil conditions facing most African maize farmers," he noted.

Under the project, 16 locations have been established in six countries and an additional four locations are due to be established.

CIMMYT Director for Global Maize Program Dr. Budhali Prasanna said that the varieties that are insect resistant are expected for farmer's royalty free through seed companies in the next few years.

Prasanna noted that the seed will become available to farmers at the same cost as other types of improved maize seeds.

He blamed Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) and other diseases for the perennial hunger in Sub Saharan Africa.

The private and public partnership IMAS project that was launched in 2010 and is due to come up with maize varieties that are better at capturing small amount of fertilizer that African farmers can afford is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at a cost of 20 million US dollars.

The scientists are cutting edge biotechnology tools such as molecular markers for traits of interest and transgenic approaches to develop verities that yield 30-50 per cent more than currently available varieties with the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied.

The improved varieties developed using DNA marker techniques are due for release within seven and nine years and those containing transgenic straits are to be available in 10 years time.

Both varieties offer 20 percent yield advantage over the current seed varieties.

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