What is drought tolerant maize?
Drought tolerant maize varieties are higher yielding when drought strikes. They have in-built tolerance mechanisms to water shortage and continue producing more than other maize varieties.
Is drought tolerant maize a Genetically Modified Organism?
The drought tolerance in the maize varieties developed by CIMMYT, IITA and collaborating national agricultural research institutes is developed through conventional breeding methods, so they are not genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
What about if there is ample rain, will the drought tolerant variety yield less than other varieties?
Many of the drought tolerant maize varieties are similar or even higher yielding than normal maize varieties under good conditions. Because we know that farmers do not want to lose out on yield in good years, we designed our breeding approach to combine drought tolerance with high yield potential and other farmer-demanded traits such as disease resistance.
Where is drought tolerant maize seed available now?
Through collaboration with National Agricultural Research Programs and the private seed sector, several drought tolerant maize varieties become available (DT maize varieties and hybrids) on the market. In sub-Saharan Africa, they include both open-pollinated varieties and hybrid varieties. Pleases ask your local Ministry of Agriculture for advice.
Is the seed more expensive than normal commercial varieties?
There is no reason for seed of a drought tolerant maize variety to be any more expensive than seed of other varieties.
Can drought tolerant maize be grown anywhere?
A good drought tolerant maize variety has the same maturity and often similar other variety characteristics as non-drought tolerant varieties. It can be grown like any other maize variety but it will show its benefit when drought hits.
With drought tolerant maize varieties becoming available, will farmers in sub-Saharan Africa simply grow maize and no other crops?
We expect rather the opposite to happen and the maize area to reduce. Due to the uncertainty of drought, many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa grow maize in a larger area than needed for home consumption in an average year. They want to be food secure even when drought strikes. As a result, they have little land and labor left to grow other crops such as legumes or cash crops. With a drought tolerant maize variety, farmers are more likely to be food secure, can allocate less land to maize and invest in other crops to the benefit of a more balanced diet, higher incomes and improved soil fertility.
How much more drought tolerant can you make maize?
Maize is an amazingly diverse crop and this natural genetic variation is at the heart of our breeding strategy. Most of our efforts focus on making maize more tolerant to drought during its productive stage, flowering and grain filling. So far, we have seen no limits to further improving the drought tolerance during those stages. Essentially, with every year of investment in drought tolerance breeding, we add another 100 kg ha-1 to a drought affected maize crop.
How do you achieve this?
The underlying concept is quite simple. We cross-fertilize different varieties – something that farmers and breeders have done for centuries - and generate thousands of new varieties. We then use rain-free periods to grow them under carefully managed drought conditions. The new varieties still receive some water, but not much. Using a portfolio of tools, including physiological and molecular markers and advanced statistical analysis tools, we select the best.
Can breeders from collaborating institutions submit new varieties for these trials?
Yes. Collaborating breeders are encouraged to submit their new varieties to be included in regional trials and we have developed a Procedures Manual showing details of how to submit the new varieties.
Are farmers involved in the selection of new drought tolerant maize varieties?
Yes. National agricultural research institutes, often in collaboration with extension and NGOs, test new drought tolerant maize varieties with smallholder farmers under farmers’ own conditions. Farmer-preferred varieties go forward into seed production and become available on the market.
What is the greatest obstacle for getting drought tolerant maize seed to farmers?
Few seed companies in Africa increase and distribute seed. In many instances improved maize seed is only sold in major towns and with little information made available to the wider farming community. So, the dissemination of new varieties is quite slow. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of stakeholders - including national governments, donors, international and sub-regional organizations - who are aware about the complex set of constraints affecting seed sector development. Through combined efforts of all stakeholders, we expect significant progress over the next decade in SSA.