Maize plays a pivotal role in the livelihoods of people in southern Africa: its annual per capita consumption is around 85 kg. In the past season, however, farmers in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and much of Zimbabwe experienced a severe drought that significantly reduced their harvests.
Despite the negative effects for many farmers in the region, the drought has allowed CIMMYT breeders to assess the real value of new maize varieties and to improve crop productivity and resilience in the face of variable climate. To present the results of their research, partners in the southern Africa maize seed value chain gathered for an annual collaborators meeting in August. The meeting was attended by stakeholders from national maize working groups of 10 countries, including scientists from the national agricultural research organizations, seed companies, and NGOs. During his opening speech, Ngoni Masoka, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development of the Government of Zimbabwe, acknowledged and commended CIMMYT for its long and sustained support of maize research in southern Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular.
Participants discussed some of their notable achievements from 2011-12. Angola began its first commercial-scale production of the drought tolerant hybrid seed with Agropequária Kambondo and produced significant quantities of the drought tolerant openpollinated variety (OPV) ZM523. Farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo produced 80 tons of the drought tolerant OPV ZM623 through community-based seed schemes. Lesotho released a quality protein maize variety, and Zambia’s national program made significant progress in breeding for drought tolerance. Local emerging seed companies in Mozambique have begun production of one drought tolerant OPV and three drought tolerant hybrids.
The annual meeting also provided an opportunity to recognize the national programs that have excelled in breeding and seed dissemination in 2011/12. Zimbawbe was awarded Best Drought Tolerance Breeding Team for maintaining an excellent track record in developing and releasing improved drought tolerant varieties. The Runner-up Breeding Team Award went to Angola for the significant invigoration and improvement of breeding efforts at Huambo. The Best Drought Tolerance Dissemination Team Award went to Malawi for the great increase in drought tolerant OPV seed production and uptake amongst small-holder farmers, and the Runner-up Award in this category was presented to Mozambique for notable efforts and new initiatives in promotion and production of drought tolerant varieties.