Malian maize farmer Bakary Touré’s entire crop withered and died during a prolonged drought in 2011. He then had no choice but to sell off his goats and chickens to provide food for his family. But this farmer’s story, told in the New Agriculturalist, has a happy ending. Hearing about a new maize variety, Touré decided to spend US$15 for the seed and plant it. The variety was called Brico and had been developed for its tolerance to drought. The next harvest reaped Touré a bumper 1.6 ton crop, enough to feed all 22 members of his family for the next 6 months. “Maize saved me,” he said.
Drought tolerant varieties are helping Malian farmers to expand maize production in areas hit by severe water scarcity. In a country where drought can reduce production by 70 per cent, two varieties developed using conventional breeding are helping farmers to produce good yields on land with very poor rainfall. Brico, named after a town in Mali, and Jorobana, which means ‘no worries’ in the local Bambara language, have been developed as part of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project.
“With drought tolerant varieties, Mali has the opportunity to expand maize production where it was not possible before because of droughts,” said Abebe Menkir, a maize breeder with IITA, who works with Mali’s Institute of Rural Economy (IER), teaching farmers how to produce certified seed for the new varieties. Growing demand for drought tolerant maize seed is driving a burgeoning private sector in Mali and other African countries, with farmers growing seeds under contract in carefully controlled conditions and local seed companies increasing turnover and staffing levels to keep pace.
Private Malian seed company Faso Kaba Seeds has dramatically increased production and profits since it was set up by enterprising businesswoman Maimouna Coulibaly just over four years ago. The company offers training to farmers to produce six crops, including the increasingly popular drought tolerant maize. In 2008, the company produced 100 tons of seed, but four years later it had increased its output tenfold. The company now employs 11 people and has expanded to include its own seed cleaning and packaging unit, coordinating around 150 franchised stores.
The DTMA project is currently developing drought tolerant maize varieties for 13 countries in Africa. It provides farmers with access to a selection of varieties which will give a decent harvest under reduced rainfall conditions and one that will equal or better the yield of popular commercial varieties if good rains should fall. The initiative is being implemented by members of the CGIAR Consortium, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). CIMMYT and IITA coordinate work with research organizations, public and private seed producers, varietal certification agencies and farmer groups to ensure that the improved maize seed reaches as many farmers as possible. Both Centers are also closely involved in the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), which seeks to increase maize productivity in a sustainable manner.
Photo credit: CIMMYT