Stress-resilient maize for climate-vulnerable ecologies in the Asian tropics
Most parts of the Asian tropics are hotspots of climate change effects and associated weather variabilities. One of the major challenges with climate change is the uncertainty and inter-annual variability in weather conditions as crops are frequently exposed to different weather extremes within the same season. Therefore, agricultural research must strive to develop new crop varieties with inbuilt resilience towards variable weather conditions rather than merely tolerance to individual stresses in a specific situation and/or at a specific crop stage. C4 crops are known for their wider adaptation to range of climatic conditions. However, recent climatic trends and associated variabilities seem to be challenging the threshold limit of wider adaptability of even C4 crops like maize. In collaboration with national programs and private sector partners in the region, CIMMYT-Asia maize program initiated research for development (R4D) projects largely focusing on saving achievable yields across range of variable environments by incorporating reasonable levels of tolerance/resistance to major abiotic and biotic stresses without compromising on grain yields under optimal growing conditions. By integrating novel breeding tools like – genomics, double haploid (DH) technology, precision phenotyping and reducing genotype × environment interaction effects, a new generation of maize germplasm with multiple stress tolerance that can grow well across variable weather conditions were developed. The new maize germplasm were targeted for stress-prone environments where maize is invariability exposed to a range of sub-optimal growing conditions, such as drought, heat, waterlogging and various virulent diseases. The overarching goal of the stress-resilient maize program has been to achieve yield potential with a downside risk reduction.