Drought tolerant maize wins 2012 UK Climate Week Award

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID, http://www.dfid.gov.uk) has won Best Technological Breakthrough at the UK Climate Week Awards for its support to a project to develop drought-tolerant maize in Africa. The prize was announced at the Climate Week Awards, held in London today to celebrate the UK’s most effective and ambitious organizations, communities, and individuals and their efforts to combat climate change.

Known as “Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa” (DTMA, http://dtma.cimmyt.org/), the winning initiative is responsible for the development and dissemination of 34 new drought-tolerant maize varieties to farmers in 13 project countries—Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—between 2007 and 2011. An estimated 2 million smallholder farmers are using the drought-tolerant maize varieties and have obtained higher yields, improved food security, and increased incomes.

Jointly implemented by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT,www.cimmyt.org) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA, www.iita.org), the DTMA project is presently funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and is also receiving complementary grants from the Howard G. Buffet Foundation (HGBF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“This maize is like an insurance against hunger and total crop failure, even under hot, dry conditions like those of recent years”, says 79-year-old Rashid Said Mpinga, a maize farmer in Morogoro, Tanzania, who has been growing maize for almost half a century. "Without good quality maize seed, you cannot earn enough, you cannot have life."

In a continent where maize is the staple crop for over 300 million people and nearly all of it is grown without irrigation, relying solely on precipitation, drought tolerant varieties are invaluable. In 2011 alone, more than 12.5 million people suffered the effects of drought and resulting famines in the Horn of Africa, with the drought being termed the worst in 60 years.

The project uses conventional breeding, where varieties with good drought tolerance characteristics are cross-bred to get final products which are both productive and nutritious and grow well in African conditions. In particular, the DTMA provide farmers with better yields than leading commercial varieties under moderate drought conditions, while giving outstanding harvests when rains are good.

Partners in developing, marketing, or distributing seed include private companies, publicly funded agricultural research and extension systems, ministries of agriculture, non-governmental organizations, and community-based seed producers.

“DFID has been a highly-valued and reliable, top-ten core contributor to CIMMYT’s work,” said project leader Wilfred Mwangi, scientist and liaison officer at the center’s Nairobi, Kenya, office.

“In the case of maize research, four-tenths of our funding is targeted to Africa and most goes to develop stress tolerant maize varieties and more resilient farming systems for maize and associated crops.”

“DFID also provided ten years of valuable support for our mid-altitude maize breeding program for southern Africa, which focused on drought tolerance,” Mwangi said.

In addition, the efforts of DTMA build on long-term support from the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), USAID, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Eiselen Foundation.

Attached files
  • A farmer inspecting his drought-tolerant maize crop. Photo by CIMMYT.