The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), together with international scientists, has developed a new set of maize varieties that survive more extreme weathers and emerging maize diseases to produce far higher yields.
The maize varieties, which are suited to all maize zones in Kenya, will be commercially available to farmers by the year 2015 and will yield around 7 tonnes per acre compared with around 2 tonnes most farmers are harvesting at the moment.
The research also underway in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and South Africa is aimed at raising yields in sub Saharan countries and other countries in the world where maize is grown, said Dr Stepphen Mugo, principal scientist/maize breeder at the international maize and wheat improvement centre(CIMMYT) in Nairobi.
The main focus however is on the sub Saharan countries to position farmers to reap from a crop that has been a favourite, but which hasnt produced as it should due to poor farming methods and tired soils. “And now with change in climate becoming all too real in Africa, we need to make sure that the varieties we develop can withstand any change in weather because what we have at the moment will be a let down in the next five years,” said Dr Mugo.
The maize varieties have now been grown at KARI Kakamega centre, representing a significant point in a laborious research path to develop varieties that survive in low moisture and disease prone areas of the country.
The maize seed project is being funded by CIMMYT, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Australian government, which is promoting conservation agriculture in Kenya to end the use of tractors and ploughs to prepare land and instead use environmentally friendly non-tillage methods to kill weeds and plant crops.
Kenya, which relies on maize as its staple food, recently suffered a huge drop in production after disease struck the major maize producing zones in Kenya. The maize disease called maize lethal necrotic (MLN), a viral infection made up of two viruses, maize chlorotic mottle virus and sugarcane mosaic virus, which is new in the country but has been reported in other parts of the world, caused the loss of 6,000 tonnes of maize and affected 3,200 hectares of farmland.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter