New maize varieties to ease climate change effects in Africa

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New varieties of drought tolerant maize developed in Africa could increase yields by up to 34 percent despite changing weather patterns induced by climate change, easing the threat of food shortage in the continent, a new report by maize scientists has revealed.

The report released on Tuesday by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) said that widespread adoption of recently developed drought-tolerant varieties of maize could boost harvests in 13 African countries by 10 to 34 percent and generate up to 1.5 billion U.S. dollars in benefits for producers and consumers.

"We need to move deliberately, but with urgency, to get these new varieties from the breeders to the farmers, because their potential to avert crises is considerable," said Roberto La Rovere, a socio-economist at the CIMMYT and lead author of the study.

"Our analysis shows that with high rates of adoption, more than 4 million producers and consumers would see their poverty level drop significantly by 2016," he added.

The study was conducted as part of the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Initiative (DTMA) implemented by CIMMYT and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

CIMMYT and IITA have worked with national agriculture research centers in Africa to develop over 50 new maize varieties that in drought conditions can produce yields that are 20 to 50 percent higher than existing varieties.

The maize is grown in Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The researchers found that under "conservative yield" improvements, the new varieties would provide farmers and consumers with food and income worth 537 million dollars, while under more "optimistic yield improvements," their value would increase to 876 million dollars.

Moreover, the researchers estimate that if drought-tolerant maize completely replace existing varieties in the countries studied, the benefits could reach 1.5 billion dollars.

Farmers and consumers in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe would see the greatest benefits, the authors note, because maize dominates local diets and livelihoods, and farmers in these countries have a history of rapidly adopting improved maize varieties. "The goal now is to make drought-tolerant maize easily available to millions of smallholder growers in countries where droughts, which always lurk as a perennial threat to food production, are expected to become more common and more severe," said Peter Hartmann, director general of IITA. "Maize is life for 300 million in Africa, and as climatic conditions deteriorate, it is up to researchers in cooperation with governments, seed companies and farmers to ensure that maize production does not collapse."

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