In 2016, annual maize production in Ethiopia totaled 7.8 million tons with an average yield of 3.6 tons per hectare (FAOSTAT). Maize is the second most cultivated cereal in the country with 66% of cereal-farming households cultivating maize on 2.1 million hectares. Nonetheless, Ethiopia is very vulnerable to drought–only 1% of the total maize area is under irrigation, the remaining 99% reliant on highly variable rainfall.

Breeding and disseminating improved maize varieties can play a major role in helping smallholder farmers mitigate the risks of droughts, pests and disease, and projected climate change. Of strategic importance is the replacement of older, climate-vulnerable maize varieties with improved, resilient hybrids in seed value chains.

On average, 80% of maize varieties commonly grown in Ethiopia were developed using germplasm not improved for drought-tolerance over 20 years ago. Launched in the early 1980s, the Ethiopian national hybrid maize breeding programme released several popular hybrid varieties in 1988, 1993 and 1995. Together, these three hybrids accounted for over 90% of total maize seed sold by the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (ESE) during 2002-2010 with one of the hybrids, BH660 accounting for 55% alone.

Through intensive collaboration with national agricultural research programs and public and private seed companies and extension agents, MAIZE has been instrumental in developing climate-resilient, nutritious varieties and fast-tracking maize varietal replacement in Ethiopia. The successful development and commercialization of CIMMYT-developed, drought-tolerant variety BH661 in particular can serve as a valuable case study for breeders, seed companies, extension agents, regulatory and policy makers in how to replace ageing crop varieties with new climate-smart varieties.

In 2016, seed producers in Ethiopia produced and marketed nearly 9000 tonnes of certified seed of BH661–enough to cover 30% of the maize area under improved seed in Ethiopia. Furthermore, the CIMMYT/MAIZE Nutritious Maize for Ethiopia (NuME) project has resulted in new QPM hybrids and open-pollinated varieties adapted to all major maize-producing agro-ecologies in Ethiopia, including the high-potential mid-altitude and highland zones, as well as drought-prone zones, bringing nutritious maize to rural consumers – especially young children and women – who are at risk of lysine deficiency.

Recent post-ante studies in Ethiopia show the adoption of improved varieties is associated with increased per capita food consumption, and ultimately food security. Climate-resilient maize seed benefitted 0.7 million households in Ethiopia in 2016 with overall estimated economic value of increased production due to climate-resilient maize at almost 30M USD.

Links to communication materials relating to this story:

Impact of improved maize adoption on household food security of maize producing smallholder farmers in Ethiopia

Developing and deploying climate-resilient maize varieties in the developing world

Measuring Farm and Market Level Economic Impacts of Improved Maize Production Technologies in Ethiopia: Evidence from Panel Data

Fast-Tracking the Development and Dissemination of a Drought-Tolerant Maize Variety in Ethiopia in Response to the Risks of Climate Change

Photo by S. Yasabu/CIMMYT